23 February 2022

The naturopathic community lost a great friend last week with the passing of former Washington State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn. A true champion of integrative and consumer-focused health care, Commissioner Senn introduced an "every category of provider" provision to Washington State Insurance Law in the 1990s - granting significant recognition and protection to naturopathic physicians in this state. This provision not only paved the way for inclusion of naturopathic physicians within private and state-run insurance plans, but it also provided the framework used by the federal government in the drafting of the "every category of provider" clause within the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Years after she left the office, Commissioner Senn remained an ally for us - making key introductions, serving as a sounding board, and continuing to support our efforts to advance naturopathic medicine in Washington. She worked closely with so many in our community, and our hearts go out to our colleagues who called her a friend.

Naturopathic medicine in Washington would not be what it is today without the contributions of Commissioner Senn. For this, we are eternally grateful and honored to share this memorial.

If you have been positively affected in any way by Commissioner Senn or the every category of provider provision in state and federal law, please take a minute to share the impact with her family: Add a Memory.

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"Deborah Senn, a lawyer and consumer advocate who served two terms as Washington State Insurance Commissioner in the 1990s, died in Seattle on February 18 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was 72.

"A native of Chicago and lifelong progressive Democrat, Senn spent her career as a forceful advocate for the environment, consumers and the “little guy.”

"As a consummate consumer advocate, she transformed the Office of the Insurance Commissioner from insurance company- friendly to a consumer-centric one when she won her first term in 1992, becoming the first woman to serve in that statewide elected position.

"Senn was a national leader on a broad range of issues including implementing the nation’s first regulations for environmental cleanup claims, protecting victims of domestic violence from insurance discrimination, guaranteeing women direct access to ob/gyns, lowering the waiting period on pre-existing conditions, and implementing equal recognition of all licensed health care providers through an every category of provider provision of law, including naturopathic physicians, chiropractic doctors, acupuncturists, direct entry midwives and massage therapists under the state insurance code. In 2010 Congress passed a federal law preventing insurance discrimination against licensed provider groups in all states, modeled on her landmark work in Washington State.

"She was also the first US Insurance Commissioner to call for regulatory action on behalf of Holocaust victims denied insurances benefits after World War II, leading to the creation of the International Commission on Holocaust-era Insurance Claims in 1998, and resulting in tens of thousands of elderly claimants around the world to receiving long-delayed compensation.

"Senn’s fearless, iconic work on behalf of consumers ruffled feathers in the business community, ultimately leading to the US Chamber of Commerce’s unprecedented attack ads when Senn ran, unsuccessfully, for Washington State Attorney General in 2004. The ads were later ruled by the State Supreme Court to have broken campaign finance laws. She also ran in 2000 for the US Senate, losing in the primary to now-Senator Maria Cantwell.

"Senn returned to private practice, representing and advising a broad range of consumers, women’s rights groups, labor unions small businesses and integrative health groups. Through the US Department of Treasury, she consulted with finance ministries and central banks in developing and transitioning countries to strengthen their ability to regulate the insurance sector and effectively safeguard consumers. She also served as an expert witness in dozens of insurance cases.

"In a notable 2014 lawsuit, Senn represented a container ship captain who won a major gender discrimination case after being denied a license to become the first female vessel pilot in Puget Sound.

"Judaism played an important role in developing Senn’s commitment to Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of “repair of the world,” and her love of Jewish liturgical music, especially that of Max Janowski. She participated in the choir at Temple de Hirsch Sinai, was a movie, theatre and baseball buff, and wrote two plays. Senn also was a dedicated genealogist, and a mentor for dozens of women in politics.

"She had few greater joys than her champion Vizslas, playing tennis, and spending time with her husband, especially on the side of a mountain, relaxing in Hawaii or traveling around the world. She was an excellent friend leaving a large community of loyal loved ones who will always cherish her.

"She is survived by her husband and partner Rudi Bertschi, sister Roberta (New York) and brother Ralph (Illinois). Details on a memorial service will follow. Tributes in support of Jewish Family Service of Seattle or local food banks are appreciated."

~from the family and friends of Deborah Senn

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