Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Earthquake drill is Oct. 19 - are you prepared for the real thing?


The OIC is participating along with 1.2 million others in the Great Washington Shakeout statewide earthquake drill on Oct. 19. Washington state is no stranger to earthquakes, and the preparedness of our region has been a topic of much discussion in the media as of late.

Did you know?
  • In most cases, earthquake insurance has to be purchased separately. Check your policy to see if you are covered. Earthquake insurance is not covered by most homeowner policies and most insurers will suspend selling policies after a quake. 
  • Nonstructural failures have accounted for the majority of earthquake damage. This includes windows, partitions, veneers, piping, false ceilings, HVAC, elevators, computers, file cabinets, plumbing fixtures, etc.
Here are some tips to prepare for an earthquake:
  • Check your work area and home. Are bookshelves, dressers, china cabinets secured? If they fall over, they could block your only way out, leaving you trapped until someone can find you and rescue you.
  • Do you know where and how to turn off the water, gas, and electricity to your home?
  • Washington Emergency Management (EMD) is recommending that households have supplies to survive on their own for two weeks. FEMA’s Ready.gov page and the Washington EMD preparedness page has lists, plans, and other resources for preparing your home, family, car, and pets.
Learn more about earthquake insurance.





Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our IT staff keeps us on track

Today is National  IT Professionals Day, and we want to take a moment to recognize the people here at the OIC who keep our systems running so we can accomplish our mission of protecting consumers and regulating insurers.
Some of the OIC's stellar IT staff 

Here are some the ways our IT staff help us protect consumers and regulate the insurance industry:

  • Consumers can file online complaints against insurance companies, agents and brokers, and get help from our consumer advocates. 
  • Insurance agents and brokers can apply for or renew their licenses online. 
  • Insurance companies can pay their premium taxes online, which goes to the state's general fund to pay for state government operations. 
  • Insurance companies file their rates electronically to use for review. 
  • And, of course, our IT folks keep our computers up and running so we can do our work every day. 
You can find all of those online services on our website, www.insurance.wa.gov




Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Medicare card design revealed today


Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a first look at the new Medicare card design. 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.

CMS will stagger the mailings of the new card to people with Medicare benefits, starting April 2018 through April 2019. 

In addition to today’s announcement, people with Medicare will also see the new design of the Medicare card in the 2018 Medicare & You Handbook, which will arrive throughout the month of September.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some property insurers are not selling policies in wildfire-affected areas

Some property insurers have temporarily stopped selling insurance in areas affected by the Eagle Creek, Norse Peak and Jolly Mountain fires in Washington state.
Photo courtesy Washington state
Department of Natural Resources 

What does that mean? 
If you are in the process of buying real estate or if your homeowner insurance policy is up for renewal, you may have a hard time finding a policy.

What should I do? 
Contact your agent or broker and ask what your options are. If you need a policy and don’t have one, shop around.

Consumers also have access to the property insurer of last resort in our state, called the Washington Fair Plan. The plan offers basic property insurance to consumer who are unable to obtain insurance in the standard insurance market. Consumers have to obtain coverage through a licensed insurance agent or broker, and you can work with whomever you choose. If your company won’t offer you coverage, your agent can help you get coverage through the Fair Plan.


Other considerations about wildfires
Even if you maintain insurance coverage on your home, you should learn about ways to decrease your risk of losing your home to fire. Here are some resources in Washington state.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion each year

Today, is National Report Medicare Fraud Day. We all pay the price for Medicare fraud, abuse and waste, which contributes significantly to rising health care costs. In fact, Medicare fraud costs taxpayers $60 billion every year.

What you can do to help stop Medicare fraud
  • Protect your Medicare number, located on your Medicare card. Treat it like a credit card and don’t carry it with you unless you need to use it.
  • Don’t give out your Medicare, Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or in person, unless you made contact – and you trust the person.
  • Remember, nothing is ever free. Don’t accept offers of money or gifts for "free" medical care.
  • Ask questions. You have a right to know everything about your medical care, including the costs billed to Medicare.
  • Check your Medicare statements to make sure they are accurate and match the services you actually received.
  • Be wary of medical providers who tell you the item or service isn’t usually covered, but they “know how to bill Medicare” so Medicare will pay.
  • Be cautious if a company requests you pay for premiums in cash, pay a year’s premium in advance, or pressures you to buy right away because it’s your “last chance.”
  • Check with the insurance commissioner to make sure an insurance company or agent is allowed to do business in Washington state.
How you can report Medicare fraud

If you suspect fraud or have questions about fraud, call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-562-6900 and ask to speak with our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program. SHIBA is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol, a federally funded grant through the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that works to reduce Medicare fraud.

If fraud or abuse is suspected, we will work with you and the appropriate state and federal agencies to investigate.



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Scam alert: SHIBA impersonators cold-calling consumers

We've learned about a phone scam that started in Snohomish County in which consumers are getting cold-calls from someone who says they are with SHIBA, the Insurance Commissioner’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors. SHIBA representatives never cold-call people. 

If you or someone you know gets a call like this, hang up -- do not provide any personal information. Report the incident and, if you have caller ID, the phone number to us at 1-800-562-6900

About SHIBA
Washington state's SHIBA provides free, unbiased and confidential help with Medicare and health care choices to people of all ages and backgrounds. Our volunteer advisors are located around the state. SHIBA is also Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol project that helps consumers prevent, detect and report Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse. Contact SHIBA by email or at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Kreidler supports flood insurance reauthorization, increased private participation


Congress has until Sept. 30 to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the federal government-run flood insurance market.

Flood damage is not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Consumers who want to protect their property must purchase a policy through the NFIP.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) are urging Congress to reauthorize the NFIP prior to its expiration on Sept. 30. Reauthorization would help avoid short-term extensions and program lapses that create uncertainty in the insurance, housing and lending markets.

Kreidler and the NAIC support the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, which also facilitates the growth of the state-regulated private flood market.

“State insurance regulators support this legislation because it provides consumers with more options for coverage which could lead to more affordable prices,” said Kreidler.

In recognition of the growing private flood market, the NAIC will start collecting information from insurers about their private flood insurance activity. This data will provide the OIC with a comprehensive overview of the size of the private flood insurance market and insights into the market as it grows.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

E-DUI tickets start July 23, will cost drivers who are cited

Beginning July 23, it will be against the law for Washington drivers to use hand-held electronics while they are driving. This includes all electronic devices—cell phones, tablets, laptops and video games. Tickets for driving while using hand-held electronics will go on your record and be reported to your insurance company.

A Driving Under the Influence of Electronics ticket, an E-DUI, will cost more than before. All violations will be available to your insurance company and may lead to premium increases. Tickets will cost:
  • First E-DUI: $136
  • Second E-DUI (within five years): $234
The new law was enacted by the state Legislature this year. The original bill was sponsored by Sens. Ann Rivers, Marko Liias, Reuven Carlyle and Patty Kuderer. According to the Washington state Traffic Safety Commission, fatalities from distracted driving increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington, and one-quarter of all crashes involved a cell phone in use just prior to the crash.

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.

Read more about the new law from Target Zero. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kreidler: Time for Senate to reject its health care bill, craft real reform

The following is Commissioner Kreidler's take on the latest version of the Republican Senate’s health care bill:

The "new" version of the Senate's health care bill released yesterday is just as bad – if not worse -- as the previous version.

Touted as the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” the bill does nothing to live up to its title. If enacted as is, the legislation would drive up costs for lower-income and older individuals, severely weaken consumer protections and leave more people uninsured.

It would also create separate risk pools that could lead to collapse of individual health markets throughout the land.

Cancer patients would be among those most negatively affected by weakened protections.

All of this despite numerous recommendations from insurance commissioners across the country on how to reform health care. Key among the suggestions: shore up the health care markets immediately.

There’s no doubt that the Affordable Care Act needs fixes. But Congress for years has refused to make them. Instead, the focus now is on legislation that would be devastating for all states, including Washington, as Gov. Inslee and I noted recently.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the best thing that could happen is for the Senate to reject the current bill and start over. Some are proposing a bipartisan approach. Let’s hope this can happen.

The protections gained through the Affordable Care Act are too important to be tossed aside.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Auto insurance rates on the rise: What you can do

Auto insurance rates increased 7 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Labor consumer price index. That figure is for rates nationwide; Washington state rates increased 5.9 percent in 2016, and 2017 rates are on pace to match or exceed that. 
Table courtesy Insurance Information Institute 

Washington consumers are feeling the effects of the increases. This year alone, we’ve fielded 421 calls and 140 complaints about auto rate increases.

The big question, of course, is what is driving the rate increases. There are several factors:
  • People are driving more miles. As the economy has rebounded, people are driving more miles per year, which leads to more collisions. 
  • Car repairs are costly. Newer vehicles are equipped with high-tech features, such as backup cameras, which are intended to improve safety, but they also cost more to repair. For example, a relatively minor fender-bender used to be not very costly to repair. However, if your car has a backup camera, your bumper contains cameras that have to be installed in a specific way in order to work properly. Cars have become computers on wheels. 
  • Distracted driving. According to the Washington state Traffic Safety Commission, distractions were a factor in 40 percent of all collisions in 2014, the single most common contributing factor in all collisions that year (read more). The number of collisions in your area contributes to increased insurance premiums -- if collisions increase, your rates are will as well. 
A new state law takes effect on July 23 that greatly restricts drivers’ electronic use and doubles the fine for infractions. If that law helps reduce collisions, the effect could be beneficial for auto insurance rates. Washington state Target Zero has information about the new law and what it will mean for Washington state drivers.

Some insurance companies are telling their customers that a new OIC rule about credit scoring is causing their rates to increase. Here are the facts: Insurance companies are allowed to look at consumers’ credit scores when setting rates for homes, autos and other personal property – they are not required to, but most of them do. We found that companies were inconsistently using credit scores, and it was causing some people to face rate increases that seemed unfair or discriminatory. For example, if a 19-year-old applies for insurance and the company runs a credit check, the score is not likely to be very high. If the company uses that same credit information for the next 10 years when pricing the policy, and meanwhile the consumer’s credit score improves, that person is unfairly being charged more than they should.

The new rule requires insurance companies that use credit scores to do so consistently. All companies that choose to use credit scores must run them at least once every three years for all of their customers. Many consumers’ credit scores improve over time, which means their rates should go down. However, if the insurer doesn’t run credit checks for policy renewals, the rule doesn’t apply – they won’t be required to start running credit checks if they weren’t already doing so.

Our advice to consumers: 
  • Shop around. Rates will continue to increase in the short-term, but you may find a lower rate with a different company. When you shop around, ask the company if they’ve filed or plan to file any rate increases. 
  • Ask about discounts. Some companies give discounts if you have other policies with them, if you’ve been accident-free or have a clean driving record for a period of time, or if teen drivers maintain a certain grade-point average. Consumers who drive few miles may be able to find discounts, or may save money with usage-based insurance. 
More information: