Thursday, June 15, 2017

Auto insurance rates on the rise: What you can do

Auto insurance rates increased 7 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor consumer price index. That figure is for rates nationwide; Washington state rates increased 5.9 percent in 2016, and 2017 rates are on pace to match or exceed that. 
Table courtesy Insurance Information Institute 

Washington consumers are feeling the effects of the increases. This year alone, we’ve fielded 421 calls and 140 complaints about auto rate increases.

The big question, of course, is what is driving the rate increases. There are several factors:
  • People are driving more miles. As the economy has rebounded, people are driving more miles per year, which leads to more collisions. 
  • Car repairs are costly. Newer vehicles are equipped with high-tech features, such as backup cameras, which are intended to improve safety, but they also cost more to repair. For example, a relatively minor fender-bender used to be not very costly to repair. However, if your car has a backup camera, your bumper contains cameras that have to be installed in a specific way in order to work properly. Cars have become computers on wheels. 
  • Distracted driving. According to the Washington state Traffic Safety Commission, distractions were a factor in 40 percent of all collisions in 2014, the single most common contributing factor in all collisions that year (read more). The number of collisions in your area contributes to increased insurance premiums -- if collisions increase, your rates are will as well. 
A new state law takes effect on July 23 that greatly restricts drivers’ electronic use and doubles the fine for infractions. If that law helps reduce collisions, the effect could be beneficial for auto insurance rates. Washington state Target Zero has information about the new law and what it will mean for Washington state drivers.

Some insurance companies are telling their customers that a new OIC rule about credit scoring is causing their rates to increase. Here are the facts: Insurance companies are allowed to look at consumers’ credit scores when setting rates for homes, autos and other personal property – they are not required to, but most of them do. We found that companies were inconsistently using credit scores, and it was causing some people to face rate increases that seemed unfair or discriminatory. For example, if a 19-year-old applies for insurance and the company runs a credit check, the score is not likely to be very high. If the company uses that same credit information for the next 10 years when pricing the policy, and meanwhile the consumer’s credit score improves, that person is unfairly being charged more than they should.

The new rule requires insurance companies that use credit scores to do so consistently. All companies that choose to use credit scores must run them at least once every three years for all of their customers. Many consumers’ credit scores improve over time, which means their rates should go down. However, if the insurer doesn’t run credit checks for policy renewals, the rule doesn’t apply – they won’t be required to start running credit checks if they weren’t already doing so.

Our advice to consumers: 
  • Shop around. Rates will continue to increase in the short-term, but you may find a lower rate with a different company. When you shop around, ask the company if they’ve filed or plan to file any rate increases. 
  • Ask about discounts. Some companies give discounts if you have other policies with them, if you’ve been accident-free or have a clean driving record for a period of time, or if teen drivers maintain a certain grade-point average. Consumers who drive few miles may be able to find discounts, or may save money with usage-based insurance. 
More information:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Women’s rights to health care guaranteed in Washington state

This week is National Women’s Health Week, from May 14-20.

Here in Washington state, there are legal protections to preserve women’s rights to get health care.

Under state law (leg.wa.gov), health insurance companies must give female patients direct access to women's health care providers and to allow them to self-refer to services, including maternity care, reproductive services and gynecological care.

The Affordable Care Act further requires that FDA-approved contraceptives for women be covered without cost-sharing as part of preventative services. But contraceptive fairness is not new to Washington state. Commissioner Kreidler was one of the advocates for a 2001 law that required insurers to cover contraceptives if they covered other prescription drugs. The law was enacted under the state’s antidiscrimination laws.

A 2014 study found that insurers inside Washington’s health benefit exchange were not giving women correct information about how to get contraceptives, which are covered at no cost to the consumer. Kreidler met with the insurers and they agreed to update the training for their customer-service staff.

This year, the state Legislature passed a bill to allow women to get a 12-month supply of contraceptives at once and covered by their health insurance plan starting Jan. 1. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign House Bill 1234 this week.

If you experience difficulty accessing benefits guaranteed to you under Washington state or federal law, you can file a complaint against your insurance company.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Don’t become a victim of Medicare card fraud

Have you heard that Medicare is sending beneficiaries new cards soon? The target date is not until April 2018, but scammers are already taking advantage of the confusion as a way to commit fraud.

Currently, most people’s Social Security number is their Medicare card number, which makes collecting Medicare numbers an easy target for scammers to steal your identity, open new credit cards or take out loans in your name. The new Medicare card number, however, will not be tied to your Social Security number and will provide more security.

How do the scams work?
Some scammers call beneficiaries claiming to be with Medicare and ask you to confirm your current Medicare number before you can get your new card. Others say there is a charge for the new card and are collecting beneficiaries’ personal information. Here are the facts: There is no charge for the new Medicare card and Medicare will never call you for your information. They already have it.

If you receive any calls or suspicious solicitations, hang up and call the Washington State Senior Medicare Patrol with our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program at 1-800-562-6900.

We can also connect you with a SHIBA advisor in your area if you need help with your Medicare benefits.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kreidler’s office helped thousands of Washington residents in 2016

Today, we published our 2016 annual report, which gives an overview of the work our office did last calendar year.
2016 annual report WA OIC

  Some highlights:
  • We regulated nearly 2,400 companies and 164,000 licensees.
  • We collected $534.7 million in premium taxes from insurance companies.
  • Of that amount, $521 million went to the state general fund to support K-12 education, higher education, human services and general government operations. 
  • We fielded nearly 8,000 consumer complaints and helped recover $11.3 million related to billings and claims.
  • Answered more than 67,000 calls to our consumer hotline.
  • Helped more than 83,000 people with one-on-one health insurance counseling through our SHIBA program.
Read the full report.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Heavy rains bring risk of floods, landslides, mudslides to Washington state

Washington state has experienced heavy rainfall this year, increasing our risk for floods, landslides and mudslides this spring. Governor Inslee proclaimed a state of emergency in nearly two dozen counties on both sides of the state, where there have been storms, slides and floods in the past two months.
Woodland slide, courtesy WSDOT
A 20 million-pound rock slab came loose from a hillside along SR 503 east of Woodland, causing a slide that closed the highway on March 13. Photo courtesy of WSDOT.


While the above- average snowpack from this winter is good for the upcoming wildfire season, it could mean an increased risk of flooding in low-lying areas, and areas with slopes may experience increased soil instability. The risk is higher in areas that were hit hard by past summers’ wildland fires, leaving less trees and vegetation to stop land movement.

Damage to your home from floods, landslides, and mudslides may not be covered under a standard homeowner’s policy. Review your insurance policy to make sure you have the right amount of coverage. Contact your insurance agent if you have questions about your policy or the availability of supplemental insurance coverage that will cover those events.

Consider flood insurance, even if you are not in a flood zone


Many agents and brokers offer flood insurance policies available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which offers protection against flood hazards for homeowners, business owners, condo owners and renters.

Landslides are not covered by flood insurance. You will need what’s called a “difference in conditions policy” to be covered for a landslide. You can ask your agent or broker about purchasing a difference in conditions policy. Read more about landslide insurance.

You don’t have to be in a flood hazard zone to be affected by a flood. People outside of mapped flood-risk areas file 20 percent of all flood insurance claims. Another benefit of purchasing flood insurance is that a policyholder may file a claim regardless of the declaration of a disaster. Read more about “Myths and Facts about the NFIP.”

The average residential flood claim in 2015 was $39,184, while the average flood insurance policy premium was $663 per year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Check to see if your community participates in NFIP. Typically, there is a 30-day waiting period before your flood insurance policy takes effect.

The Insurance Commissioner’s website has information for consumers about floods and homeowner’s insurance, including things you should talk to your insurance agent about and tips for protecting your home and belongings. We also have tips for filing a claim after a natural disaster and how to find disaster resources.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tips for teen drivers and their parents


Having a teen driver in the household can be an exciting and also stressful time. Educating yourself and your teen driver about the risks and insurance implications of unsafe driving can save lives and money.

Setting expectations
Research suggests teen accident risk is cut in half when parents and teens set ground rules for driving. Talk openly about your expectations for behind-the-wheel behavior.
  • Agree on a teen driving contract that clearly defines the rules and consequences associated with driving privileges. 
  • Set a driving curfew. More than 40 percent of teen auto deaths occur between the 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. In Washington state, teen drivers are not allowed on the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. the first 12 months they are licensed. 
  • Limit the number of passengers. Washington state limits who can ride with new drivers for the first six months they are licensed. 
  • Make all cell phone use off-limits while driving. In 2015, distracted driving accounted for 30 percent of the state's fatal collisions. Texting or talking on a cell phone can double the likelihood of an accident, and it’s illegal in Washington state. If you get a ticket for using a handheld wireless device, the fine starts at $136. 
  • Encourage your teen to exercise his or her rights as a passenger. Only 44 percent of teens say they would speak up if someone were driving in a way that scared them. 
Keeping costs down
Adding a teen driver to your auto insurance policy is costly. Here are some tips to keep costs as low as you can:
  • Stay accident- and ticket-free. Many companies grant discounts to drivers who don’t have infractions or accidents for three or more years. 
  • Keep those grades up. Many insurance companies offer discounts or preferred rates for teens who maintain good grades. 
  • Ask your insurance company about “accident forgiveness.” It’s a clause offered by some insurance companies that guarantees premiums will not increase after one minor accident.
  • Review your policy. Consider raising your deductible and only allowing your teen to drive the family’s oldest, least expensive car. In Washington state, auto insurance premiums are linked to the type of vehicle you drive. SUVs, convertibles and sports cars typically cost more to insure. 
More information:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Free service helps Washington residents recover $366,000 in old life insurance policies

Since November 2016, 53 Washington residents have recovered $366,000 in life insurance policies and annuities that they didn't know existed or were unable to locate.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners created on online Life Insurance Policy Locator to help consumers search for old policies and benefits. The free service makes the process simpler overall.

The service encrypts your request to keep personal details confidential. Insurers taking part compare requests with available policyholder information. They report all matches to state insurance departments and then contact beneficiaries or their authorized representatives.

Since its beginning last November, people have submitted more than 600 requests in Washington state alone, ranking among the top 10 states with queries. Texas, California and Florida lead the pack in recoveries – each with more than $2 million returned to consumers.

Since 2010, state insurance regulators have investigated unclaimed life insurance benefits. Regulatory actions within in the industry have resulted in returning more than $6.75 billion life insurance proceeds to consumers.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Top-notch SHIBA volunteers provide outstanding customer service

SHIBA volunteers attend an outreach event in 2016. 

In honor of National Volunteer Month, we’re recognizing the more than 400 people who passionately volunteer their time to our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program. SHIBA's outstanding volunteer advisors are an integral part of the consumer protection work we do here at the Office of the InsuranceCommissioner.

During 2016, SHIBA volunteers:
  • Assisted more than 88,000 Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers with one-on-one counseling in person and over the phone to help them: 
    • Evaluate their insurance needs. 
    • Choose a Medicare plan. 
    • Choose a Medicare supplement plan. 
    • Review long-term care insurance policies. 
    • Apply for subsidies to help pay for prescription drugs and Medicare Savings Plans to help pay Medicare Part A and B premiums, copays and deductibles. 
  • Educated more than 105,000 people about Medicare. 
  • Held more than 3,300 outreach events statewide. 
  • Resolved 648 complex complaints from beneficiaries between March 2016 and February 2017. Examples of complaints can include beneficiaries who were out of coverage, had been disenrolled by a plan, or needed an emergency prescription drug refill. 
Last year, our volunteers donated 98,000 hours of their time to help Medicare consumers in our state. At a national average volunteer rate of $23.65 per hour, this amounts to approximately $2.3 million in valuable donated time and effort.

We honor and celebrate our volunteers this month – and all year long – for their dedication, compassion, commitment, kindness and service.

Read more about SHIBA services and where to find help in your area. You can reach SHIBA online or by phone at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kreidler mourns passing of Rep. Helen Sommers

Longtime Washington state Rep. Helen Sommers died yesterday in Florida. She served in the state House of Representatives for 36 years, representing the 36th District in Seattle.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler worked with Rep. Sommers during his tenure with the state House of Representatives. At one point, they were seatmates on the floor of the House.

“I am saddened by the passing of Helen Sommers," Kreidler said. "I served with her for eight years in the state House. She was a friend and someone who made government better.”

The Seattle Times wrote about Rep. Sommers long career. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

OIC recovered $11.3 million for consumers in 2016

An OIC consumer advocate helps
a caller with an insurance question. 
A big part of what we do is to help protect consumers from financial harm.

In 2016, our consumer advocates:
  • Fielded 7,195 consumer complaints and helped recover $11.3 million for consumers. 
  • Answered 67,405 calls to our consumer hotline. 
  • Responded to 5,449 written inquiries from consumers. 
  • Responded to 1,676 consumers via our live-chat feature on our website, which started in March. 
  • Mailed 1,905 insurance publications to consumers who requested them. 
Our consumer advocates can help you:

More resources for consumers:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Distracted driving may cost you more in premiums, fines – even death

The Washington state Traffic Safety Commission released a report this week that revealed some somber statistics:
  • Nearly 1 in 10 drivers in motion was distracted by something – 9.2 percent
  • Most of the distractions were an electronic device – 6.9 percent
  • The remainder were distracted by children, their radio, eating, or something else. 
The distraction rate increased by half in drivers who were stopped at an intersection – jumping to 14.2 percent.

That’s the kind of thing that can lead to higher insurance premiums and worse – death.

The report observed more than 22,000 drivers in 23 Washington counties during 2016. It’s the first report of its kind by the commission and will serve as a benchmark for future annual reports.

These numbers are important because distracted drivers cause collisions. The commission’s most recent collision report, from 2014, shows that distracted drivers crash every 12 minutes. Distraction was a factor in 40 percent of all collisions, the single most frequent contributing factor in all collisions that year.

Distracted driving was a factor in 123 fatal collisions.

The number of collisions in your region contribute to increased insurance premiums. If the number of collisions increases, your rates are likely to as well.

In Washington state, it is illegal to hold a phone or text while you drive, and it’s a violation for all new drivers to use a phone at all. The state Legislature is considering a bill that would broaden restrictions on using electronics devices and increase the fines for people who violate the law more than once. If adopted, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Related news:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Kreidler examining how proposed U.S. rule may affect Washington’s health insurance market

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a rule this week that could significantly affect health insurance plans for 2018. We are working closely with our health care stakeholders, including health insurers, medical providers and consumer advocates, to ensure that any proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) do not harm our state’s stable health insurance market.

The federal government's 71-page proposed rule contains several approaches to market stability. We are evaluating the regulations for their effect on Washington state law and our market. One option in the proposal would shorten the annual enrollment period for consumers from three months to six weeks.

All states have been asked to provide comments on the proposed rule by March 7 – a quick turnaround.

Our analysis will consider Commissioner Kreidler’s three key values for any changes to the ACA:
  • No reduction in people covered by insurance.
  • No reduction in benefit levels or affordability.
  • No increased financial obligation for our state.
Washington independently adopted many aspects of the ACA, and we have a state-based Exchange that recently saw more than 200,000 residents enroll in coverage for 2017. Kreidler’s office is coordinating its review of the proposed rule with experts at several Washington state agencies and the national level to ensure a comprehensive analysis.

We are tracking potential changes to the ACA; you can sign up to receive notifications when we have new information. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Get a CLUE – it’s a report that can influence your insurance rates

KING 5 recently reported on a little-known database called CLUE—Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange—that can affect consumers’ property and auto insurance rates without their knowledge.

KING 5 interviewed a consumer named Mike Schultz whose auto insurance rates went up because of an error in his CLUE report. After doing some digging, he found out that his CLUE report erroneously listed a collision that he witnessed, but was not involved in.

So what should consumers know about CLUE?
  • It’s a report generated by LexisNexis that contains up to seven years of your personal auto and property claims history. The data comes from insurance companies when they close claims you file.
  • Insurance companies review the CLUE data and use it to set the rates they charge you.
  • You have the right to request a free copy of your report:
LexisNexis, Consumer Center
866-312-8076
Request your personal report online
  • If you find mistakes in your CLUE report that you want to dispute, contact LexisNexis Consumer Center at 888-497-0011. 
Read more about CLUE. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Learn how to avoid falling victim to fraud at free event on Feb. 15

The OIC and AARP are hosting a free event in Puyallup on Feb. 15 where people can learn ways to avoid becoming victims of fraud.

Free breakfast starts at 9:30 a.m., followed by presentations and free Medicare counseling. 

The event wraps up at 1:20 p.m.

Who:
Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler will speak first, at 10 a.m. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Criminal insurance fraud unit investigated 150 cases in 2015, 2016

Many people don’t know that the Office of the Insurance Commissioner investigates criminal insurance fraud, much of which is referred to us by insurance companies themselves. The work is done by the OIC’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU), staffed by law enforcement and criminal analysts. They refer the results of their investigations to state and local prosecutors, who bring charges against the people who are suspected of committing the fraud.


CIU staff conduct a search during
an insurance fraud investigation
In 2015 and 2016, the CIU:
  • Received 3,571 referrals, which are questionable insurance cases that consumers and the insurance industry send to us to review.
  • Opened 150 criminal fraud cases.
  • Submitted 52 cases to a prosecutor.
  • Had 40 criminal cases charged; 37 of those were heard before a judge.
  • Had 44 convictions for various crimes.
  • Saved $3.6 million in immediate and projected insurance claim payouts. These efforts resulted in $857,353 of restitution ordered paid back to victims and $26,760 in court costs ordered back to the judicial system.
  • The vast majority – 73 percent – of the cases we investigate involve personal property or property damage. Bodily injury frauds are 11 percent, fraud by insurance agents and brokers (called producers) is 6 percent, and the rest involve disability, a medical provider, staged auto collisions or other types of cases. 
Other information about CIU:
  • CIU was established by the Washington state Legislature in 2006. Since then, we have pursued 434 cases and adjudicated 105 of them. Our workload has steadily increased each year.
  • It maintains a list of insurance fraud most wanted suspects, who have been charged with a crime but did not appear in court to face the charges. 
  • In November 2016, the CIU earned law enforcement accreditation from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), joining the 20 percent of law enforcement agencies in the state to have it.
  • CIU hosted the 19th annual 2016 Fraud Directors Conference, a gathering of more than 70 insurance fraud professionals from 26 states and DC. It was the first time the conference has been held in Washington state. 
  • The insurance commissioner is required by law to appoint a 10-member volunteer board to advise him on fraud investigations.
Read more in the CIU’s most recent report to the Legislature.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New rule protects consumers from unintentional long-term care policy lapses


This week, we adopted a rule that affects consumers who have long-term care insurance policies and their families.

If you are not familiar with long-term care insurance, it pays for the polcyholder to stay in a long-term care facility when their health meets certain criteria. Many consumers purchase polices years or decades before they need it. Because the policies are in place for so long, sometimes people forget to pay if their mental or physical health declines, such as cases of dementia.

We started the rulemaking because of stories like this--a consumer filed a complaint with us about her mother’s long-term care policy, which had lapsed because the mother had stopped paying the premiums without her daughter’s knowledge. The daughter found out the policy had lapsed when her mother needed long-term care and the claim was denied. The company said it had notified the mother and the daughter that the policy was canceled, but neither of them received the notice.

The new rule strengthens consumer protections in cases of lapsed policies:
  • Insurers still are required to notify consumers at least 30 days prior to canceling a policy for nonpayment; however, now they have to prove they notified the policyholder and that person’s designee. 
  • The insurer has to notify the person who sold the policy to the consumer, such as an insurance agent or broker. That gives the agent or broker an opportunity to check with their client to make sure they are intentionally letting the policy lapse. 
  • Insurers are required to ask the policyholder once a year if they would like to change their designee. Previously, they were required to ask every two years. 
Read more about the rule and about long-term care insurance. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.