Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Need help with Medicare? Events being held around the state through summer

Consumers get help at a SHIBA event in Washington state
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has a program that helps Washingtonians sign up for Medicare and other health care programs. It's called Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) and it offers free, unbiased and confidential assistance with Medicare and other health care choices.

SHIBA can help you:
  • Understand your health care coverage options and rights.
  • Determine your general eligibility for health care coverage programs.
  • Evaluate and compare health insurance plans.
SHIBA holds events around the state to help people who are just getting signed up for Medicare--called birthday events--and information sessions for people who are new to Medicare or simply have questions about it.

Upcoming events:
  • May 5: Lacey Community Center 
  • June 18: Shoreline Conference Center
  • June 23: Community Cultural Center of Tonasket 
  • June 24: Grand Coulee Senior Center 
  • July 9: Seattle Central Library
  • Aug. 6: Kent Senior Activity Center
Find out more about these events and other events on the SHIBA calendar

Read more about SHIBA and how it can help you. Do you have Medicare questions? Call 1-800-562-6900.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gov. Inslee honors Cowlitz County SHIBA volunteer

From right: SHIBA Volunteer Coordinator Terri Osbourne,
volunteer Elouise Maahs and volunteer coordinator Sarah Clark
Congratulations to SHIBA Volunteer Elouise Maahs for receiving the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in the health care category.

Elouise, who volunteers for SHIBA with Lower Columbia Community Action Council in Cowlitz County, was honored on April 11 at the Governor’s mansion, where she receive her award from Gov. Jay Inslee. A SHIBA volunteer since 2008, Elouise serves as a data specialist, where she records and processes client cases. In the past year she’s processed over 6,000 client cases. Eloise was nominated for her dedication and commitment to ensuring that seniors and people disabilities have their Medicare issues, complaints and appeals processed in a timely manner.

In addition to meeting the Governor on April 11, Eloise also stopped by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner/SHIBA and had the opportunity to receive congratulations personally from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Read more about SHIBA, which provides free, unbiased, and confidential assistance with Medicare and health care choices.

Friday, April 15, 2016

If I switch health plans halfway through the year, can my deductible be transferred or prorated?

Insurance companies are not required to credit money consumers already paid in cost sharing from prior plans but sometimes they do for employer-sponsored replacement policies. If you lose employer-sponsored insurance in the middle of the year, and you've already met your deductible the year, you may want to consider COBRA for the rest of the calendar year and get an individual or family plan during open enrollment.

If COBRA is not an option, you likely will be responsible for a new, full deductible. Generally, health insurance deductibles are not prorated for partial-year enrollees, no matter how few months are left in the plan year. Individual or family qualified health plans run from January through December. There is no way to recoup the additional money you may spend towards your health insurance deductible when you switch plans mid-year after paying the first plan’s deductible. However, sometimes medical and dental expenses like deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance can be deducted from your federal taxes, which will lower the taxes you pay that year.

When you choose a health insurance plan, it will be important to understand what your insurance company covers without requiring you to pay your deductible. Then you can decide whether you want a plan with lower monthly premiums and higher deductible or one with a higher monthly premium and a lower deductible. Many health plans cover some services such as emergency room or routine doctor visits such as preventive care without requiring you to pay toward your deductible. 

Deductible amounts vary by plan and can be separated into individual or family deductibles. Some health plans also cover other benefits like doctor visits and prescription drugs even if you haven’t met your deductible. 

Your best course of action is to read your policy and contact the insurance company to find out more about the health plan’s benefits. 

If you have questions about your plan or your rights as a consumer, you can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Most colonoscopies should be covered 100% by your insurance

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires that insurance companies cover 100 percent of the cost of preventive colonoscopies for adults older than age 50. Of course you’ll need to see a provider who is part of your plan’s provider network.

However, despite this new reform, we do hear consumers who’ve had a routine preventive colonoscopy only to have their insurer process their claim as “cost-shared diagnostic care,” which is subject to their annual deductible and coinsurance.

We also sometimes hear from consumers who receive a substantial surgical bill when a polyp is discovered and removed during a preventive colonoscopy. The Affordable Care Act and other federal guidelines protect consumers from extra charges for polyp removal during a preventive colonoscopy. If you receive a bill for polyp removal, you should file a complaint with us and we’ll help you get those charges reversed.

If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, any previous related symptoms may result in your provider processing the cancer screening as diagnostic and not preventive. In that case, your treatment would not be covered as preventive care and you’ll likely have additional costs. If you have any questions, check with your doctor.

Be aware that if a procedure or treatment is not a recommended preventive service, it may be subject to your plan’s deductible and cost-sharing. Also, if a medical recommendation or guideline regarding a preventive service does not specify the frequency, method, treatment, or setting for that service, your insurer may limit your coverage.
Here are some important tips to remember:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Protect yourself from Medicare fraud

The Insurance Commissioner’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). A federally funded and volunteer-based program, SHIBA/SMP volunteers provide education on how to prevent, detect and report Medicare fraud.

Medicare is the national health care plan for all U.S. citizens age 65 and older. It also covers people younger than age 65 who receive Social Security Disability Income and people who are diagnosed with certain medical conditions.

In Washington state, SHIBA/SMP volunteers help protect seniors and fight health care fraud, leaving more money in the system for everyone. Our state’s volunteers educate beneficiaries on how to avoid becoming victims of health care fraud, and how to report abuse or fraud, related to their Medicare benefits.

We all pay a price for Medicare fraud, waste and abuse, which contributes significantly to rising health care costs. There are three things you can do to help fight Medicare fraud:

  1. Know your rights. As a person with Medicare, you have certain rights and protections designed to help protect you and make sure you get the health care services the law says you can get.
  2. Protect your identity. Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes. Keep this personal information safe:
    • Your name.
    • Your Social Security Number (SSN).
    • Your Medicare number (or your membership card if you’re in a Medicare Advantage or other Medicare health plan).
    • Your credit card and bank account numbers.
  3. Get involved with other seniors with the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). The SMP educates and empowers people with Medicare to take an active role in detecting and preventing health care fraud and abuse.
You can find more Medicare fraud tips on our website. If you suspect Medicare fraud or have questions about your bill:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Have a quick question? Try our new live chat

This week is National Consumer Protection Week and the OIC is one of the many government agencies that helps protect consumers from financial harm.

A huge part of the work we do is helping and educating consumers about all things insurance, from answering questions to looking into complaints against insurance companies, providing help with filing appeals for claim and coverage denials and everything in between.

We recently launched a live chat feature to help consumers get answers to their quick questions about insurance and their rights. Consumers can chat with one of our consumer advocates Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. If your question needs more attention, we will direct you to the right place to get the help you need.

Consumers can reach us:




Monday, March 7, 2016

Helping Washington consumers is our mission

This week is National Consumer Protection Week and the OIC is one of the many government agencies that helps protect consumers from financial harm.

Consumer protection is part of our mission, which is reflected in the way we do business. Our consumer advocates can help:
In 2015, our consumer advocates fielded 6,130 consumer complaints and helped recover more than $9.1 million in insurance billings, refunds and other claims-related issues for Washington citizens. Read more about the ways we helped consumers in 2015.

We share information of interest to insurance consumers on this blog and through our social media channels. Many of our blog posts are generated by questions our consumer advocates receive from Washington citizens.

More resources for consumers:

Monday, February 29, 2016

How to get health insurance if you missed open enrollment

If you missed open enrollment and didn't sign up for health insurance by Jan. 31, 2016, you may have to wait until next year's open enrollment period, unless you have a life event that makes you eligible for a special enrollment or you qualify for Apple Health (Medicaid).
Such events include, but are not limited to:
  • Losing health insurance, including an employer plan or individual health plan
  • Losing Apple Health (Medicaid) because you no longer qualify
  • Giving birth to or adopting a child
  • Permanently moving to a new area where your current plan doesn't provide coverage
  • Your employer not paying your COBRA premiums on time
  • Your COBRA coverage ending or reaching the lifetime limit
  • Your dependent turning age 26 and losing their coverage on your employer plan
  • Getting married or entering into a domestic partnership
  • Getting divorced or ending a domestic partnership
  • Cancelling your Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP) coverage
  • Your health plan no longer being offered for sale in Washington state

Most special enrollment periods are limited to 60 days from the qualifying event. Keep in mind that you won't qualify for special enrollment if you voluntarily cancel your health insurance or if your insurer cancels you because you didn't pay your premium.

If you don't qualify for special enrollment, here's some resources that may help you afford medical care.

Next year's open enrollment for individual and family coverage starts Nov. 1, 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Who determines how much my totaled car is worth?


We hear from many consumers who are trying to resolve their auto total loss claims with their own insurer or another insurer. A total loss is when a vehicle is in a collision and the insurance company determines it would cost more than the vehicle is worth to repair it, so they “total” it.

Once an insurer declares a vehicle a total loss, they owe you the retail market value of your car, plus sales tax. But how do you know if the amount the insurer offers you is a reasonable estimate of the retail market value? Many consumers don’t know they have the right to, and should, ask the insurance company for a total loss valuation report, which shows the comparable auto data the insurer used to calculate your vehicle’s value. Most insurance companies don’t automatically provide the report to consumers and there’s no requirement that they provide it without being asked.

Insurers can either give you cash for your vehicle’s retail value or offer to replace your vehicle with a comparable vehicle in your area.

Read more about auto total loss on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Not sure if we can help you with an insurance problem? Ask us anyway

Recently, a Washington consumer posted a story on Facebook about her brother, who was on the waiting list for a heart transplant but was being put on hold because of “paperwork” issues with the insurance company. She asked her Facebook friends to file a complaint with the Insurance Commissioner, resulting in more than 40 complaints to our office.

One of our consumer advocates looked into the complaint and determined that the insurance provider was Apple Health, our state’s Medicaid program that is overseen by the Washington state Health Care Authority. In other words, we have no authority over the plan. But that didn’t deter our consumer advocate from trying to help.

First, we reached out to the Facebook user and asked her to let people know that they should contact the Health Care Authority with complaints about Apple Health. Then our consumer advocates reached out to the Health Care Authority to make sure this complaint was received and addressed as a high priority. The next day, we got an email from the concerned sister that said, “Thank you so much for your response and directing my complaint to the proper department. Today (my brother) got his insurance straightened out and is back at A1 status. Thanks again!”

We want people to be aware of this for two reasons: First, helping consumers access insurance is one of our missions, even if it’s not something we regulate. So even if you’re not sure if we can help you, reach out to us anyway. If we can’t help, chances are that we know someone who can. Second, social media is a powerful tool and is a way to quickly escalate a consumer problem. We have a robust social media presence, so don’t be afraid to reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter. We will make sure to get you to the right person.

Here’s how you can reach us: