Friday, January 5, 2018

Health insurers in Washington must cover 12 months of oral contraceptives at a time


Starting this year, health insurance companies in Washington state are required to cover a 12-month supply of birth control pills, rather than 12 separate 30-day refills.

The prescriptions are also provided to consumers at no cost, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. That means women can get a 12-month supply of birth control pills in one visit to the pharmacy without paying out of pocket. Before this year, women had to get refills once every 30 to 90 days.

Washington state Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, sponsored the bill the passed the Legislature in 2017. She told KNKX that the bill was a way to remove barriers for women.

Need more information? Read more about insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives on our website.

Questions? Contact our consumer advocates online by phone at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Five insurance considerations for the new year


The start of a new year is a natural time to re-evaluate your insurance coverage needs. Changing circumstances may require updated policies. Did you have a baby? Get married? Purchase a new home or car? If so, you'll want to check whether you have the right protection.

Your agent or company can help determine whether your coverage is adequate or if you might need to make adjustments. Even if you haven't experienced a life-changing event, you could be eligible for discounts or new insurance products that may better serve your needs.

1. Life insurance
Changes–such as a birth, divorce, remarriage or even a new mortgage or new job–are indicators that you might need to make changes to your life insurance policy.

Read your policy carefully and answer these questions:
  • Do premiums or benefits vary from year to year?
  • Do the total benefits grow over time?
  • Are there benefits that are not guaranteed?
  • Do premiums change over time?
  • What happens if I quit paying premiums – do I maintain some of the benefits?
  • Are there any impacts associated with interest earned on the policy?
  • In what situations and through what procedures can you assess cash values?
  • Can the policy be converted into another form of insurance or annuity?
In the case of the birth of a child or a new marriage, you may want to consider increasing your death benefit. Check with your agent to see if your insurance company requires a physical exam before increasing your coverage levels.

Alternatively, paying off your mortgage, retirement or children finishing college might mean that you can lower your life insurance coverage and premiums. Ask your life insurance company whether you have the option of "conversion privileges" from your current term life insurance policy to a new whole life insurance policy. You may also be able to expand your death benefit so it can be used while you are still living.

2. Homeowner or renter insurance
In 2017, we witnessed a significant number of natural disasters. If you live in an area prone to floods, earthquakes or wildfires, you should make sure you're properly covered. These disasters can be costly and may not be covered under a standard policy. Discuss the possibility of adding coverage for these perils with your agent or insurance company.

The start of a new year is a good time to update your home inventory and make sure your homeowner or renter policy is up-to-date. Take photos or video of your possessions and remember to note valuable antiques, artwork or jewelry. You can create a home inventory from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC's) free smartphone app, myHOME Scr.APP.book, which you can download from iTunes or Google Play. You can also print a paper version of your home inventory.

Remember to add any new expensive or sizable gifts to your home inventory. Include as many details as you can and take photos of each item. Most basic home insurance policies have standard limits for big-ticket items like electronics, art, jewelry or sporting equipment. You may need special coverage, so call your agent to discuss changes for your policy.

3. Auto insurance

Have you had any changes to your driving habits or the vehicles that you drive? If so, contact your agent to ensure your auto policy will cover you in case of an accident.
  • Liability insurance is the part of the policy that pays for any injury or damage if you cause an accident. If your liability insurance is too low, you may be legally exposed for any damages above your liability limits.
  • Review your deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. This is the amount you will pay if your car is damaged or totaled without fault of another driver. Raising or lowering this amount can affect your premium.
  • Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card and your insurance agent or company's number in your vehicle at all times.
  • If you are in a collision, you should accurately record the details. The NAIC app WreckCheck, which you can download from iTunes or Google Play, assists you through the process of gathering information following an accident. It allows you to easily email your notes directly to your agent to assist with the claims process.  
4. Health insurance
You may have recently enrolled or changed your health insurance through your employer, Medicare or your state exchange. Make sure you have new insurance cards and paperwork before you visit a doctor.
  • Check your policy's provider lists to make sure visits to your doctor and any specialists are still covered by your policy, as in-network or preferred provider lists change from year to year.
  • Read through your documents and make note of co-pays for in-network and out-of-network providers to avoid surprises.
  • If you're planning a vacation, check with your insurance carrier to identify urgent care centers and hospitals that accept your insurance coverage. Ask your carrier about applicable co-pays and deductibles if care is needed. Here's an explanation of health insurance terms you may find on your paperwork.
5. Protect yourself from identity theft and fraud  
The Equifax data breach in 2017 exposed the personal information of more than 145 million people. A data breach can potentially expose a consumer's data, putting them at risk for identity theft or other fraudulent activity. Here are some things you can do to protect your identity:
  • Don't give out any personal information–including your social security number or bank information–over the phone. 
  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance. Several companies offer identity theft insurance, which generally costs between $25 and $60 per year. 
  • When you purchase an insurance policy: 
    • Ask for copies of everything you sign and keep a copy of the initial policy payment receipt or check you gave the agent or company.
    • Call the insurance company if you don't receive a copy of the insurance policy outlining your coverage and its limitations within 30 days of your purchase.
  • The best way to protect yourself from insurance fraud is to research the agent and company you're considering on the OIC's website. 
More information 
Find more information about your insurance needs and tips for choosing the coverage that is best for you and your family at www.InsureUonline.org. If you have questions about your insurance options or about your insurance coverage, visit the OIC's website at www.insurance.wa.gov.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fight fraud: Guard your Medicare card

If you have Medicare, you can protect your identity and help prevent health care fraud by guarding your Medicare card just like you would a credit card. 
New Medicare cards will be mailed starting in April 2018.

Identity theft from stolen Medicare numbers is becoming more common. To help combat fraud, Medicare is removing Social Security Numbers from cards and replacing them with a new, unique number for each person. The new cards will be mailed starting in April 2018 and should be fully distributed by April 2019.

In the meantime, here are some important steps you can take to protect yourself from the identity theft that can lead to health care fraud:
  • Don’t share your Medicare number with anyone who contacts you by phone, email or in person, unless you’ve given them permission in advance. Medicare will NEVER contact you (unless you ask us to) for your Medicare number or other personal information.
  • Never let anyone borrow or pay to use your Medicare number.
  • Review your Medicare Summary Notice to be sure you and Medicare are only being charged for actual items and services received.
If you’re looking to enroll in a Medicare plan:
  • Remember there are no “early bird discounts” or “limited time offers.” 
  • Don’t let anyone rush you to enroll by claiming you need to “act now for the best deal.” 
  • Be skeptical of free gifts, free medical services, discount packages or any offer that sounds too good to be true.
If someone calls you and asks for your Medicare number or other personal information, hang up and call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

To learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft and health care fraud, visit www.Medicare.gov/fraud or contact our SHIBA program at 1-800-562-6900. SHIBA is Washington state's Senior Medicare Patrol, the fraud-fighting unit of the federal program. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Earthquake drill is Oct. 19 - are you prepared for the real thing?


The OIC is participating along with 1.2 million others in the Great Washington Shakeout statewide earthquake drill on Oct. 19. Washington state is no stranger to earthquakes, and the preparedness of our region has been a topic of much discussion in the media as of late.

Did you know?
  • In most cases, earthquake insurance has to be purchased separately. Check your policy to see if you are covered. Earthquake insurance is not covered by most homeowner policies and most insurers will suspend selling policies after a quake. 
  • Nonstructural failures have accounted for the majority of earthquake damage. This includes windows, partitions, veneers, piping, false ceilings, HVAC, elevators, computers, file cabinets, plumbing fixtures, etc.
Here are some tips to prepare for an earthquake:
  • Check your work area and home. Are bookshelves, dressers, china cabinets secured? If they fall over, they could block your only way out, leaving you trapped until someone can find you and rescue you.
  • Do you know where and how to turn off the water, gas, and electricity to your home?
  • Washington Emergency Management (EMD) is recommending that households have supplies to survive on their own for two weeks. FEMA’s Ready.gov page and the Washington EMD preparedness page has lists, plans, and other resources for preparing your home, family, car, and pets.
Learn more about earthquake insurance.





Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our IT staff keeps us on track

Today is National  IT Professionals Day, and we want to take a moment to recognize the people here at the OIC who keep our systems running so we can accomplish our mission of protecting consumers and regulating insurers.
Some of the OIC's stellar IT staff 

Here are some the ways our IT staff help us protect consumers and regulate the insurance industry:

  • Consumers can file online complaints against insurance companies, agents and brokers, and get help from our consumer advocates. 
  • Insurance agents and brokers can apply for or renew their licenses online. 
  • Insurance companies can pay their premium taxes online, which goes to the state's general fund to pay for state government operations. 
  • Insurance companies file their rates electronically to use for review. 
  • And, of course, our IT folks keep our computers up and running so we can do our work every day. 
You can find all of those online services on our website, www.insurance.wa.gov




Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Medicare card design revealed today


Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a first look at the new Medicare card design. The new card contains a unique, randomly assigned number that replaces consumers' Social Security numbers. The purpose is to prevent fraud, combat identity theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars.

CMS will stagger the mailings of the new card to people with Medicare benefits, starting April 2018 through April 2019. 

In addition to today’s announcement, people with Medicare will also see the new design of the Medicare card in the 2018 Medicare & You Handbook, which will arrive throughout the month of September.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some property insurers are not selling policies in wildfire-affected areas

Some property insurers have temporarily stopped selling insurance in areas affected by the Eagle Creek, Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain fires in Washington state.
Photo courtesy Washington state
Department of Natural Resources 

What does that mean? 
If you are in the process of buying real estate or if your homeowner insurance policy is up for renewal, you may have a hard time finding a policy.

What should I do? 
Contact your agent or broker and ask what your options are. If you need a policy and don’t have one, shop around.

Consumers also have access to the property insurer of last resort in our state, called the Washington Fair Plan. The plan offers basic property insurance to consumer who are unable to obtain insurance in the standard insurance market. Consumers have to obtain coverage through a licensed insurance agent or broker, and you can work with whomever you choose. If your company won’t offer you coverage, your agent can help you get coverage through the Fair Plan.


Other considerations about wildfires
Even if you maintain insurance coverage on your home, you should learn about ways to decrease your risk of losing your home to fire. Here are some resources in Washington state.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion each year

Today, is National Report Medicare Fraud Day. We all pay the price for Medicare fraud, abuse and waste, which contributes significantly to rising health care costs. In fact, Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion every year.

What you can do to help stop Medicare fraud
  • Protect your Medicare number, located on your Medicare card. Treat it like a credit card and don’t carry it with you unless you need to use it.
  • Don’t give out your Medicare, Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or in person, unless you made contact – and you trust the person.
  • Remember, nothing is ever free. Don’t accept offers of money or gifts for "free" medical care.
  • Ask questions. You have a right to know everything about your medical care, including the costs billed to Medicare.
  • Check your Medicare statements to make sure they are accurate and match the services you actually received.
  • Be wary of medical providers who tell you the item or service isn’t usually covered, but they “know how to bill Medicare” so Medicare will pay.
  • Be cautious if a company requests you pay for premiums in cash, pay a year’s premium in advance, or pressures you to buy right away because it’s your “last chance.”
  • Check with the insurance commissioner to make sure an insurance company or agent is allowed to do business in Washington state.
How you can report Medicare fraud

If you suspect fraud or have questions about fraud, call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-562-6900 and ask to speak with our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program. SHIBA is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol, a federally funded grant through the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that works to reduce Medicare fraud.

If fraud or abuse is suspected, we will work with you and the appropriate state and federal agencies to investigate.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Scam alert: SHIBA impersonators cold-calling consumers

We've learned about a phone scam that started in Snohomish County in which consumers are getting cold-calls from someone who says they are with SHIBA, the Insurance Commissioner’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors. SHIBA representatives never cold-call people. 

If you or someone you know gets a call like this, hang up -- do not provide any personal information. Report the incident and, if you have caller ID, the phone number to us at 1-800-562-6900

About SHIBA
Washington state's SHIBA provides free, unbiased and confidential help with Medicare and health care choices to people of all ages and backgrounds. Our volunteer advisors are located around the state. SHIBA is also Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol project that helps consumers prevent, detect and report Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse. Contact SHIBA by email or at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Kreidler supports flood insurance reauthorization, increased private participation


Congress has until Sept. 30 to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the federal government-run flood insurance market.

Flood damage is not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Consumers who want to protect their property must purchase a policy through the NFIP.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) are urging Congress to reauthorize the NFIP prior to its expiration on Sept. 30. Reauthorization would help avoid short-term extensions and program lapses that create uncertainty in the insurance, housing and lending markets.

Kreidler and the NAIC support the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, which also facilitates the growth of the state-regulated private flood market.

“State insurance regulators support this legislation because it provides consumers with more options for coverage which could lead to more affordable prices,” said Kreidler.

In recognition of the growing private flood market, the NAIC will start collecting information from insurers about their private flood insurance activity. This data will provide the OIC with a comprehensive overview of the size of the private flood insurance market and insights into the market as it grows.