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Insurance commissioner must stand up for patients and other Californians

by Ricardo Lara

State Senator Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara for Insurance Commissioner campaign
State Senator Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara for Insurance Commissioner campaign  

In my race to become California's next insurance commissioner - and our first openly gay statewide elected leader - I have traveled all over the state, and there is one question I always get: "What does the insurance commissioner actually do?" I don't blame Californians for asking, because insurance isn't on most people's minds - until you have a problem with it.

The insurance commissioner runs the state's largest consumer protection agency, which in today's political world puts it on the front lines of the fight for basic fairness. People need a place to turn to when an insurance company denies their health claims without review or turns them down for homeowner's insurance. People need a defender against insurance fraud.

We need a strong insurance commissioner who will stand up for patients, homeowners, and small businesses, especially as the Trump administration begins the work of dismantling the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from within.

I am running for insurance commissioner because I want to defend the people of California. That's what my career has been about since I was first elected to the Legislature in 2010. I have had the privilege to work on many of the issues that the insurance commissioner oversees on a daily basis. In the Assembly, I was chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, where I implemented strong, ethical oversight of public monies. That experience gave me valuable experience in dealing with insurance markets.

Last year I authored Senate Bill 562, the bill to establish universal, publicly run health care in California and make it a right for all. I also wrote the law that extended health care to 218,000 undocumented children in California, because if we can't cover children then we are limiting their futures and hurting our whole state.

I recently introduced the Wildfire Safety and Recovery Act in order to limit insurance companies' ability to deny or cancel coverage to homeowners just because they face a risk of wildfire. After last year's record fire season, that could be almost anywhere in California.

There's a reason why California has become the center of the resistance to President Donald Trump's plan to roll back protections for consumers, working people, and LGBT Americans. It's because so many of us grew up in families that believed in fairness for all, no matter where they were born or who they love. I was born in East Los Angeles, the son of a seamstress and a factory worker. My parents are lifelong Democrats because, my mom told me recently, "This is the party that didn't make fun of our accent. They saw us as opportunities and not as liabilities. This party accepts us for who we are."

Even in this divided and polarized time, we have to keep working for policies that promote opportunity and protect people from exploitation. It is this spirit that drove me to become the first openly gay person of color elected to the California state Senate, running to represent my community and unafraid to be who I am. In nearly 168 years as a state, California has never elected an openly gay person to statewide office - including governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and insurance commissioner. Just 10 years ago, Californians voted to ban equal marriage with Proposition 8, and even with all the progress we have made as a state and a nation, the challenges ahead are not lost on me.

I am committed to serving in this spirit of inclusion as the next insurance commissioner. I am committed to continuing my work to increase access to health care for all Californians, control rates, and prepare to implement a single-payer universal health care system as outlined in SB 562. I am committed to defending homeowners from exploitative insurance practices. I am committed to cracking down on anyone who tries to cheat the system at the expense of working people. I am committed to standing up for the LGBT community, who continue to experience discrimination from health insurance companies that deny hormone treatments and identity-affirming surgeries to trans people, even though this practice was outlawed by the Insurance Gender Nondiscrimination Act in 2005. It will be a priority for me as insurance commissioner to hold insurers accountable for practices like these, and make California a more just place for LGBT individuals and for everyone who just needs a fair shot and a level playing field. That is the commitment my parents made to me, and why more than ever California is the keeper of the American dream.

State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is a candidate for state insurance commissioner on the June ballot. For more information, visit http://www.ricardolara.com/.

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