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.