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: