Thursday, July 2, 2015

Use extreme caution this Fourth of July

This year's Fourth of July festivities in Washington are complicated by the statewide drought we are experiencing. As a result, many local and state government officials are asking Washington citizens to forego fireworks, even where they are legal. 

Many municipalities in Washington have banned the use of fireworks. Washington State Patrol has a list of fireworks laws in Washington cities. They also have a list of public fireworks displays in Washington

Insurance policies generally cover fires that are accidental in origin. We recommend you talk to your insurance agent or broker about your coverage in the event of a fire or injury on your property.

If guests are injured by a personal display of fireworks, the homeowner policy may include medical coverage and personal liability coverage. 

Find more information about your insurance on our website.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Central Washington fire kicks off wildfire season – get insurance tips here

A wildfire, called the Sleepy Hollow Fire,  is burning in Wenatchee and it has a high potential to spread to neighboring areas. People near the fire are being evacuated and so far several thousand acres dozens of homes have burned. You can follow breaking news about the fire on Twitter using #SleepyHollowFire.

The Insurance Commissioner’s website has information for consumers about wildfires 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.

Here are some other resources for Washingtonians:
Wildfires are predicted to be extensive this summer. Here are some tips for preparing for wildfire risk:
  • Check your policy to make sure damage from wildfires is covered. Some policies include some coverage for emergency shelter, such as a hotel, if a home is uninhabitable. 
  • Review your policy to make sure you have enough coverage. Things like fine art, jewelry and computer equipment may have limited coverage under a standard policy. But you can buy special coverage that gives you more protection for those types of items, called a rider. Contact your insurance agent or broker to ask about supplemental policies. 
  • Catalog your home’s belongings in case you need to make an insurance claim. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a printable home inventory checklist or you can try free iPhone/iPad or Android apps. 
  • You can help protect a rural home and limit the danger by clearing a natural fire break between your home and surrounding trees, brush and uncut fields. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has information on how to protect yourself and your home before, during and even after a wildfire. 
  • Have an emergency kit and a family communication plan. Know the location of your valuable papers, including insurance policy and contact information, mementos and anything you can't live without, so you can evacuate with them, if needed. 
  • Here's a list of recommended emergency supplies to keep on hand in the case of an evacuation. 
  • Don’t forget about planning for your pets. Ready.gov has tips for pet owners
Consumers can seek help with their insurance or ask insurance-related questions by calling our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or contacting us online.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Consumers should beware of flood damage when shopping for used cars

The New York Times recently reported a warning to consumers about how to identify a flood-damaged car when shopping for used vehicles. Flooding this month in Texas has damaged upwards of 10,000 cars, leaving them at risk for damaged mechanical, electrical and computerized components that could render a car unsafe to drive.

Comprehensive coverage will generally pay for damage to an insured car that’s been in a flood. However, when flood-damaged vehicles are not repairable, many states issue a “salvage” title or a new title that specifies the car has been in a flood.

Before you purchase a used car, it’s important to run the vehicle identification number (VIN) through a database to see its vehicle history.
In addition to running a vehicle history report, here are tips from the Northwest Insurance Council about how to avoid purchasing a vehicle that’s been in a flood:
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays. 
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime. 
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
If you suspect that a car dealer or individual is knowingly selling flooded cars without disclosing the damage, you should contact local law enforcement or the NICB at 800-TEL-NICB.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

OIC is hiring an Investigator 1 in training for our Legal Affairs division

The OIC is hiring an Investigator 1 (in training) in our Legal Affairs division, located at our Tumwater headquarters. We will hire the position as an Insurance Technician 3 and upon successful completion of a 12-month in-training plan, will promote to an Investigator 1.

This position conducts routine preliminary investigations into complaints alleging violations of the insurance code and proactive Internet investigations aimed at uncovering unauthorized insurance sales in Washington state.

Duties include:
  • Conducting routine preliminary investigations of complaints alleging violations of the insurance code involving licensed and unlicensed individuals and entities operating throughout Washington. 
  • Responding to all investigative requests received by the Investigations Unit via the OIC website, telephone, in writing, email, and in person. 
  • Gathering facts and evidence from multiple sources, conduct interviews, review insurance practices, forms, contracts, service agreements, and other documents.
  • Analyzing and evaluating the evidence obtained to determine if there is sufficient reason to believe a violation of the insurance code may have occurred. 
  • Providing investigative support to other investigators, the Investigator Supervisor, or the Investigations Manager on more complex investigations or special projects.
View the full description or apply: Investigator 1 (In-Training)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

OIC hiring applications, database developer in Tumwater

The OIC is hiring an IT Systems/App Specialist 6 in our Operations Division at our Tumwater headquarters. We are looking for an expert professional-level application and database developer to provide the highest level of technical expertise in the areas of application development and data management.

Duties include:
  • Plan, analyze, develop, test, and implement enhancements and new functionality to the codebase (including .NET, C#, ASPX, jquery, javascript, html, etc) and database (MS SQL Server) as required for strategic IT business initiatives.
  • Apply appropriate software change control procedures and IT “best practices” when applying software changes including to production, integration, UAT, and development environments.
  • Provide .Net, C#, and SQL expertise to other developers (staff and vendors).
For more information or to apply, view the full description: IT Systems/App Specialist 6

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pools and trampolines increase summer fun, but also insurance risk


Before inviting friends and family over to enjoy your swimming pool or trampoline, know that either may increase your insurance risk. Because pools and trampolines can be dangerous, some companies may not insure your property if you own them, or your policy may have exclusions for liability for related injuries. 

An insurance company may also deny coverage or cancel your policy if you do not follow its safety guidelines or fail to inform the company when you build a pool or purchase a trampoline. Some insurers offer lower rates or discounts if you add safety features, such as installing a fence or locked gate.

Talk to your insurer about purchasing an umbrella policy in addition to your homeowner’s insurance to increase your liability coverage in the event of an injury. But be forewarned, if you do have an injury claim, your insurer may cancel your coverage later.

If you lease or rent a property with a pool, discuss your insurance options with your agent or insurance company.

Read more about homeowner’s insurance on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

We are hiring for our consumer hotline

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) is hiring an Insurance Technician 1 and building a register of qualified candidates who may be considered for other permanent or non-permanent Insurance Technician 1 positions in the Consumer Advocacy Program in the Consumer Protection Division that occur within the next six months.

This position provides clerical support to the Consumer Advocacy Program and answers and triages consumer hotline calls. Hotline responsibilities include assessing issues, providing routine departmental information, and routing calls to the appropriate unit, staff person or agency. This position assists insurance producers with the website and answers basic licensing questions.

Duties of this position include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Triaging calls and assisting consumer with Consumer Advocacy, Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisor (SHIBA) program, and Licensing inquiries on the hotline. 
  • Explaining basic insurance rules and procedures, answering questions and resolving problems involving insurance matters.
  • Providing information regarding actions insurance producers/brokers and applicants need to take to comply with licensing requirements.
  • Helping consumers and companies troubleshoot online application issues. 
Find more information or apply at careers.wa.gov.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Are insurers allowed to cancel homeowner policies?


Unfortunately, yes, an insurer can cancel or choose not to renew your homeowner policy at any time. Insurers are required to send you a written notice 45 days in advance, clearly listing the reason(s) for their actions. They are only required to give 10 days’ notice if the reason is nonpayment. Insurers are not prohibited from making a decision to cancel or not renew a homeowner policy due to claims history, the condition of your property, or failure to respond to their requests for underwriting data from you. Last summer, a few homeowners reported their insurers wanted to cancel their policies for homes located in the wildfire region in Eastern Washington. Insurers can also ask you to make changes to your property to remain insured, such as removing vegetation to create a fire break around your house, cleaning or repairing your roof, or making repairs to worn siding, etc.

Your insurance agent may be able to work with the insurer to retain coverage, possibly with a higher deductible or some other provision, such as a home inspection report that would provide the insurer with more information about the overall condition and care of the home and property. There’s no guarantee the insurer will continue the coverage, but it’s worth asking the question.

If you are unable to find coverage, you can get a quote from Washington Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan. It provides basic property insurance up to $1.5 million to people who can't get coverage. All Washington property insurers must participate and consumers must get a quote from a licensed insurance agent. Find a licensed insurance agent or broker.



Read more about what to do if your policy is canceled. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Share your story as Medicare and Medicaid turn 50 this year

This July, Medicare and Medicaid will celebrate their 50th anniversary. You’re invited to share your story on how these programs have positively impacted your life or that of a loved one.

In the coming months, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to share stories in a number of ways. Some stories will be used to help bring life to speeches and content on its websites. Some beneficiaries will be invited to share their stories at events or be interviewed for videos. In addition, as part of CMS’ efforts to celebrate the 50th anniversary, it plans to display stories in a gallery exhibit at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. Before CMS uses your story, staff will contact you to get your permission and to make sure you’re comfortable with how they’ll use it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Do you know what preventive services are free?

Health care reform - otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act - gives you the right to access certain preventive medical services with no cost-sharing, including co-pays or coinsurance even if you haven't met your deductible.

The list of free services includes immunizations, cancer screenings, depression screening and much, much more. See the full list at Healthcare.gov. There's also specific services covered for women and even for children.

If you've been charged for a preventive service that you believe should've been free, give our health insurance experts a call at 1-800-562-6900 or email us at askmike@oic.wa.gov

We've heard from some consumers who have had their free colonoscopy, but were later charged for the removal and testing of a polyp. Recent guidelines from the federal government should protect you from these charges, but if you have concerns, please contact us. We'll help you understand your rights to these services and others.