Friday, January 9, 2015

National insurance watchdog finds OIC meets, exceeds accreditation standards

The OIC has retained its accreditation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Every five years, the NAIC conducts a rigorous, in-depth review by an outside team of experts to ensure the OIC meets or exceeds nationwide financial solvency policies and standards in its regulatory oversight of insurance companies that do business in Washington state. It also allows insurance companies to expect consistent regulation in all accredited states.

The OIC’s most recent review resulted in no findings and a recommendation for full reaccreditation for another five years. The efforts of the OIC, led by Commissioner Kreidler, in fulfilling its mission in this area give assurance to Washington consumers that the companies they do business with are financially sound and fully complying with all required rules and regulations.

This OIC has maintained its NAIC reaccreditation for the past 15 years under Commissioner Kreidler. Our next review is in 2019.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Flood information for Washington consumers hit by weekend storms

Some areas of the state were flooded by the heavy rains over the weekend. Here's a refresher about  floods and insurance:
  • Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood damage is not on standard homeowner policies and most commercial policies, although many people assume it is. That can be a costly assumption. Your mortgage lender may require you to have flood insurance if your home is located in a flood-prone area, also known as a "special flood hazard area." You can estimate your property's flood risk online.
  • Most people buy flood insurance through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These policies are sold through local insurance agents and brokers, which you can locate online. As with most policies, there are limits to what is covered.
  • If your vehicle is damaged in a flood, your auto policy’s comprehensive coverage typically will cover it. However, you should verify you have that type of coverage with your insurance agent or broker. Read more about auto insurance.
Read more about flood insurance and damage caused by winter weather on OIC’s website.

Are you prepared for 2015? Start the new year by reviewing your policies

The start of a new year is a great time to review your insurance policies. Did you have a baby? Get married? Buy a new home or car? If so, you'll want to check whether you have the right protection.

Take some time to talk with your agent, broker or company and review your policies and see if they meet your needs. Your agent or company can help determine whether your current policies provide adequate coverage or if you might need more or less. Even if you haven't experienced a life-changing event, you could be eligible for discounts or new insurance products may better serve your needs.

Life insurance
Changes—such as a birth, divorce, remarriage or even a new mortgage or new job—are indicators that you might need to make changes to your life insurance policy.

Read your policy carefully and answer these questions:
  • Do premiums or benefits vary from year to year?
  • How much do the benefits build up in the policy?
  • What part of the premiums or benefits is not guaranteed?
  • What is the effect of interest on money paid and received at different times on the policy?
  • In what situations and through what procedures can you assess cash values?
  • Can the policy be converted into another form of insurance or annuity?
If you had a child or got married, you might want to consider increasing your death benefit. Check with your agent to see if your insurance company requires a physical exam before increasing your coverage. Alternatively, events like paying off your mortgage, retirement or children finishing college might mean that you can lower your life insurance coverage and premiums. Ask your insurance agent or company about your options.

Read more about life insurance.

Homeowner or renter insurance
This is a great time to update your home inventory and make sure your homeowner or rental policy is up-to-date.
  • Take photos or video of your prized possessions. Remember to note any antique items and their value so you can talk with your insurance agent or company to ensure they are adequately covered. 
  • Add any new gifts to your home inventory. Include as many details as you can and take a photo of each item.
  • Most basic home insurance policies have standard limits for big-ticket items like electronics, art, jewelry or sporting equipment. You may need special coverage, so call your agent to discuss changes for your policy.

Also, consider your environment. Your home could be located in an area prone to flooding or earthquakes. These disasters can be costly, and may not be covered under a standard policy. Speak to your agent about possibly adding coverage for these perils.

Read more about home insurance.

Auto insurance
Here are the basics of auto insurance:
  • Liability is the part of the policy that pays for any injury or damage if you cause an accident. If your liability insurance is too low, it is possible that you could be sued for any damages above your liability limits.
  • Review your deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. This is the amount you will pay if your car is damaged or totaled without fault of another driver. Raising or lowering this amount can affect your premium.
  • Before hitting the road, make sure you have a copy of your insurance card and your insurance agent or company's number in your vehicle.
Read more about auto insurance.

Health insurance
You may have recently enrolled or changed your health insurance whether through your employer, Medicare or our state’s exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. Make sure you have your insurance cards. Before you visit a doctor, verify that your paperwork is in order.

Check your provider lists to make sure visits to your doctor and any specialists are still covered by your policy, as in-network or preferred provider lists change each year. Read your documents and make note of copayments for in-network and out-of-network providers so you are not surprised later.

If you're planning a vacation away from home, check with your insurance carrier to identify urgent care centers and hospitals that accept your insurance coverage near your destination and along the way. Ask your insurance plan about applicable co-pays and deductibles if care is needed.

Read more about health insurance.

Be fraud wise
Insurance fraud can happen to anyone, anywhere. Protect by following these tips:
  • Don't give out any personal information—including your social security number or bank information—over the phone until you have verified the legitimacy of the insurance company and agent with your state insurance department.
  • Ask for copies of everything you sign and keep a copy of the payment receipt or check for the initial premium payment you gave the agent for the policy.
  • Call the insurance company if you don't receive a copy of the insurance policy outlining your coverage and its limitations within 30 days of your purchase.
  • The best way to protect yourself from insurance fraud is to research the agent and company you're considering. Before signing the contract or paying for the policy, verify they are licensed to sell insurance in Washington.
  • You can search our disciplinary orders or file a complaint against an insurance company, agent or broker with the OIC. 
  • You can also reported suspected insurance fraud to the OIC.

Have questions?
We are here to help! If you have questions, you can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why did my insurance rates change when I moved to Washington?

We get this question quite a bit from consumers about their insurance rates for auto, home, boats, RVs and any other type of property insurance. Each insurer has its own rates, and their rates can differ not only state by state, but within a state as well.

Insurers rates' must cover the cost of doing business and the number of claims they pay in various regions. Insurers typically use what are called rating territories. Each rating territory can have a different rate associated with it. Learn more about how insurers set rates.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.   

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What is the insurance company's role in home repairs?

It’s common for consumers to call us with their concerns about their home repair or home rebuild claims and the insurer's involvement in oversight of the work. The insurer’s duty is to pay according to the terms laid out in the policy. Unless your insurance policy contains a provision, or unless your insurer has given you assurances, that obligates them to manage a covered home repair or rebuild, it is your responsibility to oversee the project with your contractor, and when applicable, your lender.

However, if you using an insurer’s recommended (sometimes called “preferred”) contractor, then you should expect assistance from the insurer in answering your questions about the contractor’s actions and performance.

Read more about homeowner insurance.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Important change may affect business owners’ insurance

Business owners carry commercial insurance policies to protect their financial interests in their property and to cover their liability arising out their business operations. One of the important liabilities that is covered is in the event that a business is sued. The typical commercial insurance policy includes a clause called “duty to defend,” which means the insurance company is required to defend the business if it is sued and it will pay the associated legal costs. However, some commercial policies are being changed to require businesses to repay legal defense costs if the insurer later determines a claim is not covered.

How will you know if your insurance company will require you to repay legal costs? Read your policy or talk to your agent , broker, or with the insurer. Insurers may be adding the clause to new policies or to renewing policies, so it’s important to know what your policy says.

It’s also important that you promptly report lawsuits to your insurance company. Reporting this information to the insurer too late can impede the insurer’s ability to defend your business against the lawsuit. 

More information:
Questions? Contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Consumers who had trouble with Washington Healthplanfinder have a second chance to enroll

The Washington State Health Benefits Exchange has announced a special enrollment through Feb. 23, 2015 for people who have experienced trouble enrolling in a health plan for 2015 through the state’s exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder.

“I am pleased that Washington consumers who have had trouble with Washington Healthplanfinder have an option for getting coverage effective Jan. 1,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “I encourage affected consumers to act sooner rather than later.”

The special enrollment applies to people who made an effort to receive health coverage through before the Dec. 23 deadline, but who were unable to complete their applications due to a technical error associated with the Washington Healthplanfinder system.

Starting at noon today, affected consumers should fill out an online request form for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1 at: If customers need assistance or do not have Internet access, they can call the Exchange’s Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633. Each request will be reviewed and customers will receive a notification of their special enrollment through email or mail.

The Exchange also posted a list of frequently asked questions about the special enrollment period.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Does insurance have to replace my entire roof?

Here's a consumer question related to winter weather: My insurer will repair a portion of my roof that was damaged, but won’t replace the entire roof to match. Can they do this?

This is a common question and it's a frustrating issue for consumers. The short answer is yes, insurers can do that. Home insurance policies cover direct physical damage to the roof, like a tree branch falling in a wind storm and poking a hole in the roof, or blowing a section of your shingles off and allowing water to enter. The insurer will repair the damaged portion of the roof and any resulting water damage. The insurer would not pay to repair any sections of your roof that are not damaged. 

If you decide you want the entire roof replaced, you would have to pay for replacing all non-damaged areas of the roof.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Oregon Insurance Commissioner extends comment period on Mutual of Enumclaw holding company conversion

The Oregon Insurance Commissioner has extended the open comment period following the Dec. 15 public hearing of the proposed mutual holding company conversion of Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Co. Comments must be delivered to the Oregon Insurance Commissioner by 5 p.m. on Dec. 29. Comments should be sent to Russell Latham, Financial Regulation Section, Oregon Insurance Division, P. O. Box 14480, Salem, OR 97309-0405.

Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Co. and its subsidiary, Enumclaw Property and Casualty Insurance Co., have requested permission from the Oregon Insurance Commissioner to reorganize into a holding company structure. Holding companies are corporations that own and control other companies. The new holding company would be the direct owner of Mutual of Enumclaw and the indirect owner of Enumclaw Property and Casualty Insurance Co. Read more about the request in our Dec. 9 blog post.

To find information about viewing the plan of reorganization, view the Dec. 15 public hearing notice from the Oregon Insurance Division.

Insurance Commissioner fines health insurer $50,000

LifeWise Health Plan of Washington has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine for overcharging 5,700 consumers $6 to $38 per month for the first six months of 2014. 

The health plans were WiseEssentials 25 and WiseSavings 20, which are catastrophic plans that trade a high deductible for a lower monthly premium. They are usually purchased by young, healthy people who want coverage in case of an injury, accident or serious illness. Each year, health insurers are required to file with the OIC their health plans--called "forms" in insurance vernacular--and the rates they will charge for each plan. The OIC then reviews and ultimately approves the plans and rates, working with the insurers when they need to. 

In this case, the 2014 rates that LifeWise filed for those catastrophic plans had decreased slightly, depending on the enrollee’s age, because the deductible increased. From January through June 2014, LifeWise charged those consumers rates that were based on the 2013 plans, which had higher deductibles.

As part of the agreement, called a consent order, LifeWise will repay the affected consumers the amounts they overpaid plus 8 percent annual interest. View the consent order here

You can search our disciplinary orders or file a complaint against an insurance company, agent or broker on our website.