Seattle Times Report: Protest Against Lobbyists at NAIC Convention

Health-care activists hold anti-lobbyist protest at gathering of state insurance regulators

By Keith Ervin

Seattle Times staff reporter

While many state insurance regulators wore business suits to their national meeting in Seattle on Saturday, they were approached by a smaller number of people wearing a different kind of suit.

Health-care-reform activists sported surgical gowns and masks as they chanted and handed out packets that offered to “disinfect” the gathering from a “lobbyist pandemic.”

The packets included soap, a hand wipe, a clothespin and a face mask to protect against “lobbyist lies … lobbyist germs … and lobbyist stench” — underscoring that emotions over health-care reform haven’t entirely subsided since President Obama signed a historic reform law in March.

A small group of protesters made it into a meeting of state legislators and regulators before they were escorted out.

Participants in the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ summer meeting at the Washington State Convention Center mostly appeared to take the political theater in stride.

“As one of their targets, I did not feel too offended,” said Peter Rice, senior counsel for the Boston-based Dewey & LeBoeuf law firm. “It’s a free country,” he reflected, and, “A little disruption keeps us on our toes.”

“What I love about Seattle, it’s kind of a kooky town — very important messages, but they were done with levity,” said Beth Berendt, Washington’s deputy insurance commissioner for rates and forms.

The insurance commissioners’ association is filling in some key details that weren’t settled in the health-care act. With a new requirement that 80 to 85 percent of premiums paid into group health insurance be used to pay for medical care, the association is being heavily lobbied by the insurance industry and consumer groups over how it should define medical expenses.

Of the 1,600 people participating in the five-day Seattle conference, about 500 represent the insurance industry, organizers estimate.

Peter Koutoujian, chairman of the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ Committee on Financial Services, said he went out to a rally on the street to hear what protesters had to say about defining medical costs. “Everything I saw was an anti-lobbyist demonstration,” he said. “It did not have to do with the substance of the matter I went down for.”

When police officers asked a group of chanting protesters to leave a convention-center lobby, protester Robby Stern stayed behind to talk to officers. “I think that we have the First Amendment right to be in a public space and hand out leaflets,” he said.

“Not if they don’t want them,” responded Officer R.A. Christopherson.

Stern, a member of the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, said he went to the convention center to urge regulators “to carry out the intent of the Health Care Reform Act to cover as many people as possible. Don’t allow the insurance-industry lobbyists to influence you.”

The protest was organized by Washington state Health Care for America Now.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

Kevin S. Wrege, Esq.

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