Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner

California’s June 2018 Primary

The two main candidates for Insurance Commissioner are Ricardo Lara, a Democratic State Senator, and Steve Poizner, who served as Insurance Commissioner as a Republican and now runs without party affiliation. Another Democrat, physician Asif Mahmood, has no political experience. While Poizner has the most relevant experience and reportedly ran the agency effectively, his opposition to single-payer healthcare and party identification match neither California’s values nor policy mood.

I respect Steve Poizner’s experience as former Insurance Commissioner, and understand that the role is largely nonpartisan (only 11 other states elect rather than appoint the Insurance Commissioner). Dropping the Republican designation but retaining the designation of Republican in the age of Trump excuses the virtually uncountable instances of malfeasance from Republicans at all level of government under his watch. California must reject anyone who continues to stand for the Republican Party.

The starkest policy difference between the two candidates is around single-payer health insurance. Lara’s healthcare page says front-and-center:

Authored SB 562, the landmark, revolutionary bill designed to make California the first state in the union to successfully enact a single-payer, universal healthcare system.

Also known as the Healthy California Act, SB 562 would have requested a waiver from the federal government for healthcare expenses, and cost an estimated $400 billion per year (including $50–100 billion in new required funding). Yet the bill’s website omits this cost estimate and blames its failure on politicians with conflicts of interest. This partisanship raises concerns about the bill’s author regarding objectivity serving as Insurance Commissioner.

On the other hand, Poizner’s website includes a subsection titled “Oppose Single Payer Health Legislation.” I’m not yet convinced that single-payer coverage is the right approach to maximize health insurance coverage and outcomes in California, but our state’s liberal electorate clearly wants officials to explore it. An Insurance Commissioner explicitly opposed to it could throw a wrench in a program that could take years or decades to evaluate and implement. We need someone who will consider all options, and an overzealous commissioner may be better than an oppositional one on this front.

Lara chairs the Appropriations Committee, offering insight into financial matters relevant to the Insurance Commission. In this position he also had notable legislative activity.

As highlighted on his Transportation page, he authored SB 1273, which expanded California’s Low Cost Auto Insurance program. This subsidizes cars and the fossil fuels they consume, and depending on the structure, it may also hinder the insurance market by ignoring driving history. As Insurance Commissioner, he would have further opportunities to subsidize insurance products, which can damage the organic market (as subsidized flood insurance worsened Hurricane Harvey’s damage) and is a subpar antipoverty tool (we should instead expand cash transfers like California’s Earned Income Tax Credit to also help the many low-income people without cars).

He has also taken positive stances on controversial issues, such as voting for SB 1 (a gas tax funding transportation improvements) and SB 35 (requires cities to build more housing).

Ricardo Lara is not the perfect candidate, but he suits California’s political moment and comes to the job with experience to make an effective Insurance Commissioner.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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