Health care advocate Deborah Senn, Washington's first woman insurance commissioner, dies at 72 [The Seattle Times]
Seattle Times (WA)
Feb. 21—Deborah Senn, Washington's first woman insurance commissioner who was known as an advocate for health justice, died at 72 on Friday, her husband Rudi Bertschi confirmed.
Senn was remembered as a tenacious consumer advocate who stood up for individuals against insurance companies. She was known for becoming personally involved in the cases of individuals being denied potentially lifesaving medical care. She also sponsored legislation ending insurance discrimination against domestic-violence victims and was an advocate for Holocaust victims denied insurance benefits.
During her tenure as insurance commissioner, Senn put in place regulations meant to speed up insurance companies' handling of environmental cleanup claims.
Senn was the first woman to be elected Insurance Commissioner of Washington, defeating incumbent Richard Marquardt in 1992. She was reelected in 1996.
"She wanted to help people gain access to affordable and comprehensive health coverage. That's why she first ran," Bertschi said.
Her subsequent bids for elected office were unsuccessful, losing to Maria Cantwell in the 2000 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate and to Rob McKenna in the 2004 general election for Washington Attorney General.
She depicted that hard-fought campaign for attorney general in a one-woman theater production called "Until the Last Dog Dies" in 2009.
Senn's hard-charging style drew criticism, even from within her own party. But consumer advocate and political candidate Ralph Nader called her "the best insurance commissioner in the U.S., hands down," in a profile in Seattle Weekly during her campaign for Senate.
After leaving office, she advised emerging democracies on insurance regulation as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Treasury, according to a Legacy Washington profile of Senn posted on the Washington Secretary of State's website. She also taught health care law at Loyola University, Bertschi said.
Deborah Mandel Senn was born in Chicago on March 8, 1949. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She was married to Bertschi and moved to Washington in 1984.
She was active in several sports including hiking, cycling and skiing and was a passionate fan of baseball and football. Senn was also active in the Jewish service organization B'nai B'rith.
She died at Swedish Medical Center from complications related to pancreatic cancer, Bertschi said. Senn is survived by her husband, Bertschi, a brother and a sister.