Friday, July 30, 2010

Auto glass company owner charged with theft in $1.5 million insurance-fraud case

A Burien, Wash. auto glass company owner has been charged with three counts of first-degree theft for a billing scheme that’s believed to have cost insurers more than $1.5 million.


Charges against Michael Alan Perkins, 43, were filed Thursday in King County Superior Court. Perkins is the owner of Autoglass Express Inc. and Premier Auto Glass, LLC., which are run out of Perkins’ Burien home. The glass shops are suspected of overbilling State Farm, Allstate and MetLife insurance companies.

An investigation by the state insurance commissioner’s office found 4,840 instances in which the company told insurers that higher-priced Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) glass had been installed, when workers were actually installing lower-cost aftermarket glass.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s anti-fraud Special Investigations Unit, which spent months combing through more than 10,000 records, found $1,520,234 in deceptive billing by Perkins’ companies between September 2005 and December 2009.

“We found instances in which companies paid full price for car windows that actually came from auto wrecking yards,” said Kreidler. “One company was billed more than $1,000 for a Toyota windshield that actually cost $92.”

Click here to read more.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Study suggests that unusual paint colors on cars are an effective deterrent to theft

If you want to deter car thieves, get a car with an unusual color. So says the Family Home Security blog, citing a study out of the Netherlands.

Here's the theory: since thieves value quick resale of a stolen car, look for colors that are unusual, like pink. In the cited study, black and silver were the two most-stolen colors. The researcher suggested that an uncommon car color, if you can put up with it, might be at least as good a deterrent as an expensive car alarm.

Monday, July 26, 2010

WA insurance enforcement actions: $30k in fines against insurers, a dozen agents & brokers disciplined

In the second quarter of 2010, the Washington state insurance commissioner's office:
  • levied more than $30,000 in fines against insurance companies for violations including improper rate-setting
  • ordered several companies to stop selling illegal insurance,
  • and disciplined a dozen agents and brokers for violations including diverting premium dollars for personal use.
To read the list -- and this quarter's is unusually long -- please click here.

Katrina, five years later: "The costliest disaster in the history of the global insurance industry"

Five years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana, leaving much of New Orleans underwater, the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded group, has put out a white paper detailing statistics from the disaster.

Some of the findings:
  • Private-sector insurers paid out more than $41 billion on 1.7 million auto-, home- and business insurance claims, making Katrina "the costliest disaster in the history of the global insurance industry."
  • The federal government's National Flood Insurance Program paid out an additional $16.1 billion in claims, "a dollar amount higher than what the NFIP paid to all of its claimants combined between 1968 and 2004."
  • And private-sector insurers paid between $2 billion and $3 billion in Katrina-related offshore energy facility claims.
The report also details the outcome of post-storm lawsuits aiming to define what damage was caused by wind and what was caused by water -- a key factor in determining whether homeowner's insurance pays for damage. From the report:

"Ultimately, insurers won virtually every major case that was filed against them post-Katrina, establishing or reaffirming important legal precedent in each instance."

To read the full III report, click here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Senate passes bill that includes $44 million to help repair Washington's Howard Hanson Dam

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that includes $44 million for critical repairs to the Howard Hanson Dam in south King County.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last winter announced that it needed to keep water levels behind the dam lower than normal due to a weakened earthen abutment on one side of the dam. That, in turn, made it more likely that the heavily developed area below the dam would be flooded during periods of high winter rains.

As a result, businesses in the area reportedly had a hard time finding affordable insurance -- or in some cases, any insurance -- for flood damage. And the area is full of manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other sites that would suffer serious losses in a major flood.

The good news: the flooding didn't happen, and the Corps and contractors have worked to strengthen the abutment in recent months. The risk of serious flooding, last year pegged by the Corps at 1 in 3, is now believed to be down to 1 in 33. Still, that's still higher than normal for the area.

Our office, meanwhile, has worked closely with dozens of insurers to form a flood "market assistance plan," which tries to link insurers selling coverage with businesses needing it. The project has just launched, and is taking applications.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

A cell phone infraction while driving in WA does NOT affect your insurance rates (but don't do it)

We've been fielding some questions today about cell phones and driving in Washington state, due to an apparent glitch in enforcing the new law. In some cities, cited drivers are reportedly having their infractions voided due to the glitch.

All of which leads to the logical question: What if people's insurance rates went up as a result?

The good news: They didn't. The state's cell phone law was updated earlier this year to make driving while talking on a cell phone a primary offense. (That means you can be pulled over for that alone.) But the law includes sections explicitly stating that:
Infractions under this section shall not become part of the driver's record under RCW 46.52.101 and 46.52.120. Additionally, a finding that a person has committed a traffic infraction under this section shall not be made available to insurance companies or employers.
The upshot: Your insurance rates won't go up for a cell phone violation while driving.

Still, know this: If you're gabbing on the phone and cause an accident, that could be a very different story.

Our advice: follow the law. Put the cell phone down.

Job opportunity: Financial examiner in our Seattle office

Due to a retirement, our agency -- Washington state's insurance regulator -- is seeking a senior financial examiner to work in our Seattle office. The person would supervise at least 6 financial examiners.

From the job announcement:

"As a senior financial examiner, this position plans, conducts and supervises the field and/or in-office financial examinations" of major insurance companies. "Performs advanced reviews of examination work papers, reinsurance, investments, automated systems, management assessment, training needs and coordination, etc., and is responsible for timely submission of draft reports for supervisory review."

The salary range is $5,266 to $6,908 per month, depending on qualifications, experience, etc.

For a list of required qualifications and an application form, see the link above.

Insurance news: credit scoring, bank reform and redlining, big Medicare bust

The Insurance Journal airs the industry's response to our recent consumer alert warning consumers to watch their credit use.

A story on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the Huffington Post focuses on the new federal insurance office and its duty to tackle potential redlining:

"Buried in the over 2,000 page Dodd-Frank bill is a subsection entitled "Federal Insurance Office." It is charged with several duties including the responsibility "to monitor the extent to which traditionally underserved communities and consumers, minorities, and low- and moderate-income persons have access to affordable insurance products regarding all lines of insurance..." And the office is empowered to "receive and collect data and information on and from the insurance industry and insurers" and to "analyze and disseminate data and information."

And according to AP, "Federal authorities said Friday they are conducting the largest Medicare fraud bust ever in five different states and arrested dozens of suspects accused in scams totaling $251 million."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

1 in 4 consumers now have poor credit scores: likely to pay more for insurance

As the economy continues to flounder, credit scores are plummeting. According to a leading producer of credit scores, FICO inc., more than 43 million people now have a credit score of 599 or below.

Today, most insurance companies use your credit information and other factors to create what they call an “insurance credit score.” The lower your score, the more you could pay for auto and homeowners insurance.

The lesson: be very careful how you use your credit. The following actions could cause your credit score to go down and your insurance rates to go up:

• Consolidating credit cards, lowering your credit card limits, or canceling your cards.
• Buying large ticket item with 12-months deferred interest.
• Using or opening a store card to get a 10 percent discount on a purchase.
• Opening a new credit card to get frequent flyer miles.

Kreidler pushed for a ban on insurance credit scoring last year, but the legislation was unsuccessful. He still supports a ban, but short of that, believes people should educate themselves on the industry's growing reliance on credit scores.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

WA state will soon launch federal high-risk pool

Washington state has reached an agreement with the state’s high risk pool—the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP)—to run the temporary federally- funded Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan. Applications will be available in early August, with coverage beginning Sept. 1.

The new plan, created by the Affordable Care Act, is designed to provide temporary health insurance to people who have been uninsured for at least six months and who have a pre-existing health condition. WSHIP has contracted directly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will run the program alongside the state’s current high risk pool.
To qualify for the new plan, individuals must:
  • Be a citizen or national of the United States or a legal resident of the United States
  • Have been uninsured for at least six months before applying
  • Have a pre-existing condition
 Washington state joins 29 other states that are using federal funds to run their own program. The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan ends in 2014, when full health reform takes effect and people cannot be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says fake health plans are on the rise

In other insurance news, Insurance Journal is reporting this morning that:

Fraud Bureaus Report Sharp Rise in Fake Health Plans.

The story includes a lot of interesting details, such as the fact that in Illinois, a telemarketer managed to sell an elderly woman "coverage against `death panels.'"

The Hollywood Reporter weighs in on the insurability of Lindsay Lohan

It's not often that the worlds of Hollywood and insurance regulation collide, but we're provided with a perfect opportunity today, in a post on the Hollywood Reporter's legal blog.

"IS LINDSAY LOHAN NOW UNINSURABLE?"

reporter Matthew Belloni asks, citing Lohan's erratic recent behavior.

The general sentiment seems to be that films may have to pay more now for coverage if they use her as a star -- which could be a deal-breaker -- but also notes that plenty of other Hollywood stars have gotten their careers back on the rails.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Note to WA agents and brokers


In October, our office will launch a new search feature on our website. The new tool will help consumers look for an agent or broker in their area.

Here's the critical part: The results will provide consumers with your contact information, specifically your business address and phone number. And as things stand now,  a lot of agents and brokers only use their residential addresses -- which we will NOT list in this new tool -- as their primary point of contact with us. They simply leave the business address field blank. But that means that the new search tool won't list them when a consumer searches for an agent or broker by city.

To learn more, see this page. To log in to your online account and update your licensing business address record to be sure that consumers can find you, just click here.

Questions? We're at 360-725-7144 or licinfo@oic.wa.gov.