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Steve Blackledge,
U.S. PIRG

Randi Becker – the “Senator from Premera” – attempting to block insurance rate transparency

For Immediate Release

Seattle – A state senator who has accepted at least $2,400 in campaign contributions from one of the state’s largest healthcare providers is behind an amendment to deny consumers access to information on why their healthcare premiums are going up.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the legislators who are gutting this legislation have taken campaign contributions from the only major insurance company opposed to it,” said Steve Breaux, public interest advocate at the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG). “Legislative rules prevent its members from impugning the motives behind these kinds of amendments, but I think groups like WashPIRG have an obligation to help connect the dots.”

The legislation in question – House Bill 1220 – was requested by state insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler to allow his office to disclose the information in health insurance rate filings before they are approved, including how much of the proposed rate will go to actually paying medical claims versus administrative costs, salaries, and profits. It’s widely seen as a pro-consumer measure that will allow the public to participate in the approval process and help keep health insurance rates down.

The disclosure provisions in HB-1220 are based on those currently effective in other states and the bill has the approval of two of the state’s largest health insurers, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound and Regence BlueShield, as well organizations ranging from the National Federation of Independent Business, the Washington State Nurses Association, WashPIRG, and the AARP.

The only major opposition has come from Premera Blue Cross and two trade associations – the Washington Association of Health Underwriters and the National Alliance of Insurance and Finance Advisors.

The Senate is poised to consider SHB-1220 this week, but an amendment offered by Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) would effectively gut the bill and keep rate filings secret until after they’re approved – a move supported by Premera, which has contributed thousands of dollars to Becker’s election campaigns, including:

Breaux notes that this isn’t the first time a legislator with financial links to Premera has sponsored an amendment to change the legislation to Premera’s liking. In the House, amendments to the bill were brought by Rep. Joe Schmeck (R-Colfax), who received $800 for his 2010 campaign and $300 for his 2008 campaign according to PDC filings.

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