Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Are fireworks banned where you live? Check your insurance policy before you light them

Before you celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, here are a few things to consider:

  • Some cities in Washington state have banned fireworks. If you live in one of those cities and cause a fire with fireworks, your homeowner or renter policy may not cover the loss. Talk to your agent or broker, or read your policy to be sure. 
  • Washington State Patrol has a list of cities that have banned fireworks for personal use, and a list of public fireworks displays. 
  • More fires are reported on the Fourth of July than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • On average, 250 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around July 4, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC reports that in 2016, 11,000 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries.

Consumers can get help with their insurance or ask insurance-related questions by calling our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or contacting us online. We will be closed on July 4, but will re-open at 8 a.m. on July 5.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Skipping commercial insurance is a bad idea for ridesharing drivers

Driving your own vehicle for a ridesharing company—Uber and Lyft are the most well-known—has become a popular side gig. Some drivers are illegally using their personal auto policies to insure their vehicles.

Rideshare drivers are not covered by their personal auto insurance policies. They are required to have a commercial or rideshare-specific auto insurance policy to cover them while they are driving for profit. In recent years, insurance companies have created products to cover drivers during the different periods – waiting to be hailed, en route to pick up a passenger, and while driving a passenger. Some of those policies are commercial, some of them are hybrid products that are in addition to your personal auto insurance. In addition, Uber and Lyft offer their own coverage for liability for passengers and third parties in the case of a collision.

If you are a rideshare driver and file a claim with your personal, non-rideshare auto insurance company for a collision that happened while you were on the clock, you are breaking the law. There are scores of online forums and sites that give drivers tips on how to get away with insurance fraud. Here are some reasons why you should not do that:
  • When the insurance company finds something amiss—and they will, they spend millions of dollars a year rooting out fraud—they are legally required to refer you to our office to be criminally investigated. 
  • You could be charged with filing a false insurance claim, attempted theft or theft, to start. If you are convicted or plead guilty, you could have a felony on your record for the rest of your life. 
  • Your auto insurer will likely opt to not renew your auto policy. You may have a hard time finding an auto insurance policy after being charged with insurance fraud and if you do, it will certainly cost you more than you used to pay. 
Cutting corners on insurance might seem like a way to save on business costs. In the long run, you are much better off paying for insurance that covers your rideshare business than possibly facing criminal charges.

More information about ridesharing and insurance.

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Medicare card scams hit nationwide

Medicare started mailing new cards to beneficiaries in April and will finish mailing them nationwide in a year. In Washington state, beneficiaries will start receiving their replacement cards this July.

The cards have a new look but, most importantly, they have unique numbers to replace the Social Security numbers previously used on the cards. Medicare created the new cards to reduce identity theft and fraud.
New Medicare card design

Ironically, fraudsters are capitalizing on the change to deceive beneficiaries. They may have many details about individuals, often gleaned from social media and other publicly available resources. They sound convincing.

The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) helps beneficiaries fight back. SMP staff work in communities across the country to teach beneficiaries how to prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud, errors, and abuse.

Here are some Medicare card scams that SMP is seeing:

The new Medicare cards don’t cost anything!
  • Telling Medicare beneficiaries they need to pay to obtain a new card. Fake charges range from $5 to $400.
  • A person claiming to be from a government agency says they need your bank account information to deposit funds into your Medicare account.
Fact: The new cards are free -- you do NOT need to pay for your new card and you don’t need to do anything to get it. Medicare will automatically mail your new card to you. In fact, you can sign up to get an email from Medicare to know when to expect your card in the mail.

You don’t need to get personal
You need to confirm or give personal information to get your new card.

Fact: You do NOT need to give any personal information to get your new card. The cards are mailed to the address you have on file with Social Security. You can update your address online, call 1-800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office.

No one will cancel your Medicare insurance
You need to provide your old Medicare card number to prevent your insurance from being interrupted while new cards are being mailed out.

Fact: Your Medicare coverage will not be interrupted or stopped because of your new card being mailed to you. 

For more information about Medicare card scams and other scams, contact Washington state's SMP, which is part of our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program, at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Insurance tips for recent college grads

It's graduation season and lots of new college graduates are embarking on their career journeys. Many college grads find themselves needing to make important insurance-related decisions. By better understanding insurance policies and your needs at this stage, you can get the most out of the money you spend on insurance.

Renter insurance
Renter insurance can protect your personal property against damage or loss and also protects you in case someone is injured while in your residence. If you plan to rent an apartment or other residence, here is more information about how renter insurance works.

You might be sharing your apartment or house with roommates. In this case, you likely need an individual policy that covers you and your possessions if something should happen. Speaking of your stuff, the best way to make sure you get reimbursed for your contents is to make a home inventory.

Health insurance
As you sort through job prospects, make sure salary isn't your only consideration. Health insurance is perhaps the most important job-related benefit. Study the health plans prospective employers provide and make inquiries about your options and the out-of-pocket costs. Weigh this against the cost of remaining on a parent's plan. The Affordable Care Act law allows you to stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you turn 26. Read more about understanding health insurance.

Auto insurance
Will you be looking for a car soon? Remember to factor in the cost of auto insurance. If the car was a graduation gift or you are jumping off your parents' auto insurance policy, it's time for you to discuss your coverage with an agent.

If you drive an older car that is paid off, you might consider dropping collision or comprehensive coverage as a way to cut expenses. Talk to your insurance agent or broker about the cost of collision and comprehensive coverage versus the value of the car.

Washington state requires you to maintain auto liability insurance to cover losses caused by your negligence. To avoid penalties, pay your premiums on time and don't let your coverage lapse. Have you filed a claim recently? Ask your insurance agent or broker about accident forgiveness, which may lower your rates.

Read more about understanding auto insurance.

Life insurance
There are differing opinions about the importance of purchasing life insurance before you have a family of your own. If you are single, you should make choices based on your finances, health and other circumstances. Talk to an insurance agent or broker to learn more. Some prudent steps and asking the right questions of your insurance professional can help you control your insurance costs.

Read more about understanding life insurance.

More information
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has insurance information for young singles and single parents. To find out if an agent selling home, health, auto or life insurance is licensed in Washington state, or if you have questions about insurance, contact us at www.insurance.wa.gov.

Monday, April 16, 2018

SHIBA volunteers provide exceptional customer service to Medicare clients

April marks National Volunteer Month and our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program recognizes the more than 400 people statewide who selflessly volunteer their time to help people navigate Medicare. They’re an integral part of the consumer protection work we do here at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
SHIBA volunteers assist people at a Spokane outreach event 
During 2017, SHIBA volunteers:

  • Assisted more than 87,000 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 options.
    • Apply for low-income 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 108,000 people about Medicare.
  • Held more than 3,300 outreach events statewide.
Last year, our volunteers donated 95,568 hours of their time to help Medicare consumers in our state. At a national average volunteer rate of $24.14 per hour, this amounts to approximately $2.3 million in valuable donated time and effort.

A big thanks to all of our SHIBA volunteers--not just this month, but all year long–for their hard work, dedication, compassion, commitment, patience and humility.

Read more about SHIBA services, where to find help in your area and how you too can become a SHIBA volunteer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It’s never too soon to start planning for retirement

Did you know that 2 million workers in Washington state don't have access to a retirement plan at work? Studies show that it's best to save for your retirement as early as possible. Even a few dollars a month can make a big difference 20, 30, or 40 years down the road.

Washington state residents at any stage of life can look for a retirement plan at the state’s new retirement marketplace. Small businesses and individuals can find a low-cost plan that will help them save for retirement.

Not sure how much you should save each month? The National Retirement Planning Coalition can help you calculate what you need to save based on what stage of life you are in at RetireOnYourTerms.org. The site features life-stage specific resources and tools to assist Americans achieve their long-term financial goals.

Other resources from the insurance commissioner:

Friday, March 30, 2018

How to get the most out of your dental insurance

More than 249 million Americans had dental coverage at the end of 2016, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Here’s some information about how to get the most out of your dental plan.

Types of dental insurance

  • Dental preferred provider organization (DPPO/PPO: These plans are popular because they allow covered consumers to choose from an array of dentists and dental specialists. The flexibility of PPOs trends toward higher costs for that type of coverage.
  • Dental indemnity insurance: Consumers pay dentists directly for services rendered and later receive compensation from the insurance company through a sometimes lengthy claims-submission process.
  • Discount dental/dental savings plans: Dentists agree to perform services for plan owners at a discounted price. Dentists are paid the discounted rate directly by the plan owner.
What dental insurance covers
Individual policies typically cover the following at 100 percent::
  • Preventive care: Cleanings, routine office visits 
Most plans apply a copay for these services:
  • Restorative care: Fillings and crowns. 
  • Endodontics: Root canals
  • Oral surgery: Tooth removal, tissue biopsy and minor oral infection drainage.
  • Orthodontics: Braces and retainers; sometimes are covered via a rider for both individual and group policies. 
  • Periodontics: Scaling, root planning and acute infection and lesion management 
  • Prosthodontics: Dentures and bridges 
Make sure you read your policy, including the exclusions and limitations. Your insurance company will not provide benefits for excluded services even if approved, prescribed, or recommended by your dentist.

Learn more about dental insurance. 

Dental coverage for kids and seniors

Dental coverage for kids up to age 19 (also called pediatric dental insurance) is an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act. State law requires individual and small group health plans to cover these services, either as part of the health plan or through a separate stand-alone pediatric dental plan.

Medicare does not cover dental procedures. However, some Medicare Advantage plans may offer some form of dental benefit.

More information

There are varying costs for dental procedures, but you can get an idea for how much a procedure will cost you on FAIR Health Consumer's Dental Cost Estimator.

Our office regulates dental and other types of insurance. If you have questions about your coverage, contact our consumer advocates online  or call us at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Medicare cards are coming starting in April

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start mailing redesigned Medicare cards to beneficiaries in Washington state after June 2018. 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. All replacement cards should be delivered nationwide by April 2019.

Here are 10 things to know about your new Medicare card:
  1. Mailing takes time: Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s.
  2. Destroy your old Medicare card: Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
  3. Guard your card: Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
  4. Your Medicare number is unique: Your card has a new number instead of your Social Security Number. This new number is unique to you.
  5. Your new card is paper: Paper cards are easier for many providers to use and copy, and they save taxpayers a lot of money. Plus, you can print your own replacement card if you need one!
  6. Keep your new card with you: Carry your new card and show it to your health care providers when you need care.
  7. Your doctor knows it’s coming: Doctors, other health care facilities and providers will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care.
  8. You can find your number: If you forget your new card, you, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your Medicare number online.
  9. Keep your Medicare Advantage card: If you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage plan ID card is your main card for Medicare – you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, your medical provider may also ask you to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry it too.
  10. Help is available: If you don’t get your new Medicare card by April 2019, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. You can also find help in Washington state from SHIBA advisors in your area by calling 1-800-562-6900 or online. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Information for TRICARE members in Washington state

military family with two young kids
Our office regulates insurance, but not every kind of insurance. One of the types of insurance we don’t regulate are military health plans, such as TRICARE, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, we occasionally receive complaints, calls, and email inquiries from military members and retirees about those plans.

On Jan. 1, TRICARE’s contracted insurance provider changed from UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans to Health Net Federal Services. We have heard from some consumers and the TRICARE West Region that their call center is experiencing higher volume of calls with long wait times, enrollment backlogs, referral and authorization processing backlogs, and limited network provider directory & delivery issues.

While we are unable to assist in resolving military health plan complaints, we do have information that may help some people:

  • TRICARE West customer service number: 1-844-866-9378
  • Inquiries regarding West Region claims with dates of service prior to January 1, 2018 should be directed to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. For all other inquiries, contact Health Net Federal Services at 1-844-866-9378 or go to its online portal.
  • Consumers may file a complaint online with TRICARE.  
  • For more details about the transition from UHC to Health Net Federal Services, see the FAQ for Beneficiaries
  • If you decide to contact your Congressional representative, be sure to include TRICARE West’s response to your inquiry. If they advise you to contact your state’s insurance commissioner, let them know that we do not regulate your insurer. 
  • Find health care information for veterans from the OIC.
If you have questions about another type of insurance – auto, renter, homeowner, or another type of property, you can talk to a consumer advocate by calling 1-800-562-6900 or contact us online.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Insurance fraud hurts consumers, too

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner investigates criminal insurance fraud, receiving approximately 2,000 referrals each year. While insurance fraud may seem like a “victimless” crime – insurance companies carry large reserves of money in part to help pay claims – it actually harms consumers. Insurance fraud costs the average family $400 to $700 per year in increased premiums.

The OIC’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) is staffed by law enforcement and criminal analysts who work with state and local prosecutors to bring charges against the people who are suspected of committing insurance fraud.

In 2017, our fraud investigators:
  • Analyzed and prioritized 1,896 fraud referrals.
  • Opened 102 criminal investigations and closed 93 criminal cases.
  • Submitted 33 complex criminal cases to county, state, and federal prosecutors.
  • Our work resulted in 33 criminal guilty pleas or convictions from 28 defendants.
Here are some examples of insurance fraud:
  • Buying insurance after you need it: Getting a policy after an accident or after a loss has occurred. We see this most often with auto collisions. 
  • Falsifying claims on homeowner or renter insurance: Claiming items that you didn’t actually own or falsifying the circumstances to increase the damage and the claim amount. 
  • Staging car crashes, intentionally causing car crashes (driving slow so someone rear-ends you), submitting fake medical bills after a collision, claiming a car was stolen. 
  • A medical provider billing for services or equipment that the consumer did not receive.
  • An insurance producer (agent or broker) holding onto consumers’ premium payments or selling fake policies to earn commissions.
Consumers can help deter insurance fraud in a few important ways:
  • If you see something, say something – if someone tries to rope you into a scam or tries to make you or someone you know the victim of a scam, report it to us.  
  • Make sure you are working with a licensed insurance producer, and check their complaint history on our website. 
  • Read your policies, statements and explanations of benefits forms. The best way to not be a victim is to know what your policy covers, how much you are paying, and the claims your insurance company is paying on your behalf. 
  • The chances of getting away with insurance fraud are slim. Insurance companies have sophisticated data systems that immediately flag suspect claims. People who are convicted of insurance fraud and related crimes often become felons, which means you lose some of your rights like voting, traveling to certain countries, and some public benefits.