Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Consumer alert: If your insurance cancels your policy, you may have a hard time finding new coverage for a while

We recently received a call from a consumer who had paid the most recent homeowner insurance premium online, but the insurance company canceled the policy. When the consumer called the insurer to sort it out, the insurer said they are not issuing any policies because of the wildfires around the state.

The consumer called us, and we are working with the company to make sure the consumer has the coverage they paid for.

It is not uncommon for property insurers – they insure cars, buildings, homes, property and renters’ contents – to suspend issuing new policies during a natural disaster. President Obama issued an emergency declaration for Washington on Aug. 21. As of today, more than 920,000 acres have burned in our state.

This scenario underscores the need to be vigilant about the information your insurance sends you. Insurers are required to tell you in writing if they are canceling your policy for any reason, including nonpayment. Many homeowners don’t think about their insurance payments because they are rolled into your mortgage payment. If you have multiples insurance policies with the same company, it’s common for all of your premiums to be paid at the same time. For example, if you insure two cars and an RV through the same company, you probably pay for all three at once.

If your insurance company contacts you by mail, phone or email, you should carefully read what they send you. If you are unsure about the standing of your policies, contact your insurance company, agent or broker.

If you can't find homeowner insurance, ask your agent to get a quote through the Washington Washington FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan. It provides basic property insurance up to $1.5 million to people who can't get coverage.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly or have questions about insurance in Washington state, contact our consumer advocates online or by phone at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Some insurance policies may cover living expenses for those displaced by wildfires

Families displaced from their homes due to wildfire evacuations may be eligible to be reimbursed for their additional living expenses if their insurance policy provides for such claims. Examples of those expenses include lodging, meals and purchasing toiletries if a consumer is displaced by the wildfire or as a result of an evacuation order.
One of several Blackhawk helicopters that is fighting wildfires in Eastern Washington. Photo courtesy of Washington state Emergency Management Division. 
Consumers in several areas in Eastern Washington have been ordered to evacuate at different points during the wildfires. We are hearing reports that some insurance companies are requiring consumers to provide a copy of the municipality’s emergency evacuation order before they will pay for additional living expenses. There is nothing in state laws or rules that prohibits an insurance company from asking for this information. If you need a copy of an evacuation order, contact the emergency management teams in your area.

If you have access to your insurance policy, read it to find specific information about what is covered, your deductibles, what kind of documentation is required and policy limitations or exclusions. If you don’t have a copy available to you, contact your insurance company, agent or broker.

Here are more resources from the Office of the Insurance Commissioner:

OIC is hiring IT Specialist 5 in Tumwater

OIC is seeking a highly motivated IT Specialist 5 (IT Security/ Network/ Server Administrator) in our Tumwater headquarters. The IT Specialist 5 is the lead IT security specialist for the agency and is responsible for planning, designing, configuring and supporting the agency’s network infrastructure and servers. The ideal candidate must have strong knowledge of IT network and server infrastructure, Microsoft Active Directory, LAN/WAN administration, configuring network hardware and software and enterprise backup software.

OIC supports employees through regular training and opportunities to implement new technologies and participate on multiple projects teams. We also offer tuition reimbursement, free parking and participate in the state's commute trip reduction program.

If you are interested in joining our team, view this and other jobs at OIC.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fires continue to devastate Eastern Washington

More than 780,000 acres have burned in 11 counties and tribal lands in Eastern Washington. President Obama has signed an Emergency Declaration that authorizes FEMA to assist with equipment and resources.

The fires have claimed an estimated 80 homes and displaced families and affected agriculture, businesses and countless communities. The weather forecast calls for rain over the weekend, but there's also a possibility of lightning in some areas. Several of the fires were started by lightning.
A photo from a wildfire in Wenatchee in July 2015 (OIC photo)

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 resources from other agencies:
  • Follow news about the fires on Twitter at #WaWILDFIRE.
  • The Washington Department of Natural Resources has the most recent fire information available on its website and through its @waDNR_fire Twitter feed
  • Governor Inslee has declared a state of emergency and instituted a statewide burn ban in June. You can view the Governor’s Wildfire Resource Page at http://bit.ly/WAwildfire
Some experts are predicting wildfires will continue into September. Here are some tips for preparing for wildfire risk:
  • Check your policy to make sure damage from wildfires is covered. Some policies include 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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Grant aids veterans in need of mental health services in Tacoma area


A $1.6 million grant and expansion of a Tacoma-area golf course that is a second home for many wounded veterans took center stage Aug. 18 at an event focused on the importance of mental health counseling services.

Commissioner Kreidler joined veterans, their families and representatives of the United Health Foundation in the gathering at the American Lakes Golf Course in Pierce County.

The event centered around the presentation of a $1.6 million grant to benefit "Give an Hour," a national nonprofit organization providing free confidential  mental health services to military members and their families.  The award from the United Health Foundation will be split between Tacoma and Houston.

The grant will help "Give an Hour" raise awareness of available programs, grow its mental health care provider network, and help veterans and their families access services.

"No one deserves more than those who wear the uniform," said the commissioner, a retired Lt. Colonel of 20 years in the Army Reserves.

Others speaking at the event were Dr. John Mateczun, president of UnitedHealthCare Military and Veterans; Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, president and founder of Give an Hour; and Lourdes "Alfie" Alvarado-Ramos, secretary of Washington state Department of Veteran Affairs.

The featured speakers, though, were veterans and devoted golfers Jim Martinson and Aaron Boyle.  Both noted the importance of mental health services for wounded vets.

Martinson lost his legs to a "Bouncing Betty" land mine in Vietnam in 1968. Another land mine blew off the right leg and arm of Boyle in Afghanistan several years ago. Both cited the availability of mental counseling in helping them through their lengthy recoveries, physical and spiritual.

"These services are desperately needed by many veterans and their families in our community," Boyle said.  "Give an Hour will benefit so many who need help."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Multiple fires threaten Eastern Washington


Over 40 wildfires are burning in 11 counties in Eastern Washington lands of the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, causing Gov. Inslee to request a Federal Emergency Declaration. 


Our hearts go out to the families of the three firefighters  who lost their lives in the fight to save the town of Twisp and to the other firefighters who were injured.


These fires have claimed more than 50 homes and over 235,000 acres of land. Several communities are under evacuation orders. Weather conditions over the next few days will create the potential for these fires to spread to neighboring communities. 


Follow news about the fires on Twitter using #WaWILDFIRE.

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:



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.

 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Residential mental-health services now on par with medical coverage

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has clarified to insurance companies in Washington that mental-health services must now be offered in parity with medical services.

The commissioner updated rules on mental-health parity in 2014 and asked insurers to review previous mental-health claims that had been denied under a blanket exclusion. He asked insurers to rectify those denials.

The need for clarification arose after a consumer filed a complaint with our office after being denied for residential mental-health treatment. The individual said this violated federal laws regarding mental-health parity.

The federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires insurers in Washington to provide residential mental-health benefits to consumers on par with similar medical health benefits.

Most insurers were already providing the mental-health services on par with medical services. The consumer complaint prompted further clarification.

Better access to mental-health treatment continues as a top public policy priority in Washington. Consumers with concerns can contact the commissioner’s office at any time for information. Consumer advocates are also available to take calls toll-free at 1-800-562-6900.

Read more about mental-health parity

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

OIC hiring six temporary customer service specialists


The Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) is hiring for six part-time, non-permanent Customer Service Specialist 1 positions. The positions are located in our Tumwater headquarters and are expected to work 20-30 hours per week. The expected duration of the appointments is four months, starting September 2015.

The positions provide customer service and technical assistance to the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) staff and volunteers surrounding the annual Medicare open enrollment period. The positions also assist in answering phone calls and consumer questions regarding their Medicare Part D options.

Duties of the positions include, but are not limited to:
  • Assisting consumers by telephone or email regarding technical questions or concerns regarding Medicare enrollment, coverage and options. 
  • Explaining to consumers available outreach, workshop and public media events in their communities.
  • Providing information about services available through the OIC, especially consumer advocacy. 
  • Resolving consumer concerns and issues with a thorough analysis and research and provide unbiased impartial information. 
The deadline to apply is Aug. 19.

To apply, or for more information, visit careers.wa.gov

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gallup poll: Washington ranks 5th among states with drop in uninsured rate


According to a Gallup poll released today, Washington is one of five states to exceed a 10 percent drop in the number of uninsured people.



Seven of the 10 states with the biggest reductions have two things in common: they expanded Medicaid (called Apple Health in Washington) and established a state-based health exchange (ours is called Washington Healthplanfinder).

Washington state has seen record-low rate requests from health insurers in the past two years. Insurers proposed an average 5.4 percent increase for 2016. These plans are now under review and the average rate increase is likely to be lower.

For 2015 plans, insurers proposed an average rate increase of 8 percent. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler eventually approved an average 1.5 percent rate increase.

"I'm pleased to see the health insurers show an increased interest in the individual market and to see rates continue to come in relatively low,” Kreidler said when the 2016 rates were submitted in May of this year.

Open enrollment for 2016 health plans begins on Nov. 1.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Consumer alert: Life insurance mail scam still alive in Washington

Some Washington residents are receiving mailers from National Processing Center advertising a “state-regulated life insurance program to pay Final Expenses for just pennies a day…  Return this card today and you will receive the latest information on how this Special Program will pay 100% of all funeral expenses not paid by government funds, up to $25,000 (TAX FREE), for each Washington citizen covered.”

This is a mail phishing scam and we are alerting consumers to not return the card or provide any personal information.

Here’s what the mailer looks like:


Here are some red flags we identified in this mailer that consumers should be aware of:
  • The mailer doesn’t identify the name of the insurance company.
  • The mailer doesn’t give an agent or broker to contact.
  • The card gets returned to “National Processing Center,” which is not an insurance company.
  • The mailer gives no information about the policy.
The Virginia Better Business Bureau issued a consumer alert about the mailings in 2013.

A handful of companies are authorized to sell final-expense life insurance policies in Washington, which typically are purchased to cover funeral expenses. Before you buy any insurance, you should make sure the person or company selling the policy is licensed to do business in this state. If you are interested in finding one of the companies that sells final-expense life insurance, you can contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 for a list.

Read more about life insurance and what to consider before you buy it.