Thursday, February 22, 2018

If you run a business out of your home, here’s why you should talk to your insurance agent

If you run a business out of your home, your homeowner insurance policy may not cover you adequately. Homeowner insurance policies typically do not cover any losses or liability related to a business.

In other words, if something were to happen related to your business, you would be on the hook for all damage to your property and any ensuing liability (your responsibility for damage to other people’s property or injury to other people).

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you run a business out of your home:
  • Do you keep business related stock or inventory in your home?
  • Do you have specialized or difficult-to-replace equipment that requires special consideration? Many renters or homeowners policies limit office equipment replacement to $2,500. Would this cover the equipment you need to keep your business running?
  • Do clients or customers visit your home office? If so, are you protected against possible lawsuits if a visitor were to injure themselves?
  • If your home office were destroyed by a flood or fire, how would you be compensated for the downtime?
Read more about insurance and your home business on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Kreidler’s consumer advocates recovered $18.9 million for consumers in 2017


Most people know that we regulate insurance in Washington state, but many aren’t aware that we also help consumers when they have questions about insurance or have trouble with their insurance company. In fact, we have an entire division dedicated to protecting consumers from financial harm.
An OIC consumer advocate attends an outreach event 

In 2017, our consumer advocates:
  • Received and processed 7,705 consumer complaints, resulting in recovery of $18.9 million related to insurance billings, refunds and various claim-handling issues to consumers. 
  • Answered 63,823 calls to our consumer hotline regarding insurance issues, rights and responsibilities.
  • Responded to 5,801 written inquiries.
  • Mailed 1,904 insurance-related publications to consumers upon their request.
  • Helped consumers resolve various policy issues, including claims, billing, and underwriting problems, and offered referral services to other state agencies and organizations, including the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
Our consumer advocates can help you:
We share information of interest to insurance consumers on this blog and through our social media channels. Many of our blog and social media posts are generated by consumers’ questions.

More resources for consumers:
  • Reach us by phone at 1-800-562-6900 or online
  • File a complaint against an insurance company or agent. 
  • Read more about how to get help from our consumer advocates. 
  • Read more about your insurance, including home, life, auto, health, annuities and business. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Corporate efforts to innovate health care will be of interest to many


The announcement by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to form a company to contain health care costs for their employees has generated considerable attention – and for good reason.

The leaders of these companies are renowned for their ability to innovate. We certainly agree with them that health care costs are unsustainable and need to be lower. We’ve been saying that for years. How they plan to accomplish such a monumental task remains to be seen. Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said the companies don’t “come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable.”

It’s an admirable goal and one that comes with a lot of work ahead. Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, acknowledges the truth by saying “the health care system is complex.”

How the companies go about cutting costs and improving results is something that many will watch. Companies like Amazon self-insure for their employees’ health care and are not subject to regulation by this office.

The companies have yet to provide details on what they are considering. But we think it’s safe to assume they may have a focus on the direct purchase of health care – contracting directly with medical providers, including hospitals, and finding an imaginative way around the gnawing issue of soaring costs for prescription drugs. We will pay attention to their efforts to see what effect it has on the health care landscape and the companies we do regulate.

We hope they will build on some the key successes of the Affordable Care Act to date – greater coverage, more focus on costs and results that benefit patients. Regulators stand ready to offer the benefit of their experience in this effort.

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.