Friday, November 16, 2018

Diabetes & heath insurance: What you should know

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and there are a lot of reasons to be aware of this disease. Worldwide, 425 million adults have diabetes – that’s one in 11 people. Another 212 million people remain undiagnosed – or 1 in 2 people.

Health insurance subject to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare are required to pay for diabetes screenings and other preventive services in full, without cost-sharing. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, the ACA prevents insurance companies from denying you coverage based on having a pre-existing condition.

Washington state law goes further and requires health insurers to cover the following:
  • Insulin 
  • Syringes 
  • Injection aids 
  • Blood glucose monitors 
  • Test strips for blood glucose monitors 
  • Visual reading and urine test strips 
  • Insulin pumps and accessories to the pumps 
  • Insulin infusion devices 
  • Prescriptive oral agents for controlling blood sugar levels 
  • Foot care appliances for prevention of complications associated with diabetes 
  • Glucagon emergency kits
Find more information about diabetes:
If you believe you’ve been denied coverage for a preventive diabetes screening, diabetes treatment, or diabetic supplies, you can talk to an insurance expert or file a complaint.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Quitting smoking can improve your health insurance premiums

Today is the Great American Smokeout and now is a great time to stop smoking and using nicotine products to avoid the nicotine surcharge for your 2019 health insurance.

Health insurers are allowed to charge smokers 50 percent higher premiums than nonsmokers. That’s because smokers' health care costs tend to be higher than those of nonsmokers.  

To help you kick the habit, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover FDA-approved smoking cessation services such as counseling and medication as a preventive benefit, which means consumers have no out-of-pocket costs. 

Here are some tips from the Great American Smokeout for how to quit using tobacco products:
  • Quitting smoking isn’t easy. Have a plan for how you will live a smoke-free life.
  • You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. Start with day one.
  • How to quit smoking or using tobacco

There are immediate and long-term benefits to quitting smoking, beyond paying less for health care (and saving money you’ve been spending on cigarettes or nicotine products). 

Nearly 38 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths every year, about 1 in 5 deaths. And more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Beware of open enrollment scams

We are rapidly approaching 2019 open enrollment for Medicare (Oct. 15 – Dec. 7 and health insurance for individuals and families (Nov. 1 – Dec. 15). That also means we’re starting to see scammers try to trick consumers into buying illegal products.

An OIC employee recently received a phone call from an insurance agent who tried to sell her a health insurance policy. The agent—who isn’t licensed in Washington state—told the employee that if she provided the address of a friend or relative from out of state, he would sell her a policy using that address that would be covered under a “national plan.”

Here’s what’s wrong with in this scenario:
  • Consumers can’t buy an ACA-compliant health insurance plan outside of open enrollment unless they qualify for a special enrollment.
  • It’s not legal for agents and brokers to sell consumers a policy using someone else’s address. 
  • It’s not legal for agents and brokers to try to circumvent state insurance laws by selling a policy that’s valid in another state. 
  • It’s not legal to solicit or sell insurance in Washington state without a license. 
The agent is now the subject of a legal investigation.
If someone tries to sell you a health insurance plan outside of those dates, you are probably not getting the coverage you think you are. Here are some red flags to watch for:
  • NEVER give an agent any financial or payment information before you review the policy. 
  • If the agent refuses to give you any plan information in writing until you have signed up, “locked in,” “reserved a spot” or provided financial information. 
  • The agent may direct you to website to check your provider network. Before you sign the policy, contact your medical providers directly to ask if they accept the plan. 
For Medicare-related plans, it’s illegal for agents and brokers to initiate unsolicited door-to-door visits, phone calls, or emails to consumers.

Here’s where you can find more information:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This is a good time of year to think about flood insurance

It's early October, which for those of us in Western Washington means the rainy season is about to get started.

A North Carolina resident rescues a cat in the flooding
that resulted from Hurricane Florence.
Photo courtesy Associated Press
Most people do not have flood insurance. Washington state has 43,000 flood policies among individuals/homeowners. Western Washington isn't the only place where it's worth thinking about. Eastern Washington is also at risk for flood. Areas that have been struck by wildfires are subject to heavy water runoff due to the vegetation being gone. 

Consider North Carolina, which is currently recovering from Hurricane Florence. In a state with 10 million people, only 134,000 homes were covered by flood insurance. You can read more about what's happening there from Mike Causey, the insurance commissioner in that state.

Here are some facts you should know about flood insurance:
  • Your homeowner policy does not cover floods, or any loss due to flooding. That includes mudslides and land movement that were caused by water.
  • There's a 30-day waiting period for most new flood insurance policies to take effect.
  • Many policies are sold through the National Flood Insurance Program, but there can be policies available outside of the federal government. Your agent or broker can give you more information.
Read more about flood insurance on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or call 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

7 safe driving habits to adopt

Each time you take your focus off the road, you're putting your life and the lives of others at risk.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities increased by six percent from 2015 to 2016. Distracted driving, speeding, alcohol impairment and unrestrained passengers were the main culprits. 

Whether it's going to work, running errands or taking a road trip, for many, driving is a common daily activity. However, your car weighs more than 4,000 pounds, and a collision with a vehicle that is equal or heavier in size could be disastrous.

Safe-driving tips:
  • Maintain your vehicle. Get regular oil changes, and make sure your tires are properly inflated, you have plenty of gas and the lights work.
  • Buckle up. Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries after a crash.  
  • Use smart driving positions. Keep both hands on the steering wheel, and position them at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock, or 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, depending on the size and style of your steering wheel.
  • Maintain speed limits. Obey all speed limits and watch for hazardous road conditions.
  • Follow to the three-second rule. Leave three seconds of distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. You need that space to react if something happens.
  • Map out your route. Taking your eyes of the road to program your route or look at a map can be a major distraction. Before you hit the road, plug in your destination and look at an overview of the route. 
  • Keep your eyes on the road. Distracted driving is dangerous and the cause of frequent, costly and often deadly accidents. It is also illegal in Washington state. Impaired driving, speeding and drowsy driving are also very dangerous. 

WreckCheck App for Smartphones 

Accidents happen. If one happens to you, take some of the guesswork out of a tense situation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' WreckCheck™. This free app for iPhone and Android smartphones outlines what to do immediately following an accident and walks you through a step-by-step process to an accident report.

Don't have a smartphone? Download a printable accident checklist and other tips for staying calm, safe and smart on the road.

Need more info? 

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Keep yourself safe - avoid and report Medicare scams

With Medicare Open Enrollment just around the corner--Oct. 15 – Dec. 7--and new Medicare cards in the mail, be on the lookout for scam artists trying to get your personal information.

If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask for your personal  information, or to get your new Medicare Number and card.

If a scammer contacts you and asks for information or money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits, do not share any information. Hang up and call the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program at 1-800-562-6900.

In addition to providing free, unbiased help with your Medicare options, SHIBA is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol project. We help clients prevent, detect and report Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Are fireworks banned where you live? Check your insurance policy before you light them

Before you celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, here are a few things to consider:

  • Some cities in Washington state have banned fireworks. If you live in one of those cities and cause a fire with fireworks, your homeowner or renter policy may not cover the loss. Talk to your agent or broker, or read your policy to be sure. 
  • Washington State Patrol has a list of cities that have banned fireworks for personal use, and a list of public fireworks displays. 
  • More fires are reported on the Fourth of July than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • On average, 250 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around July 4, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC reports that in 2016, 11,000 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries.

Consumers can get help with their insurance or ask insurance-related questions by calling our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or contacting us online. We will be closed on July 4, but will re-open at 8 a.m. on July 5.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Skipping commercial insurance is a bad idea for ridesharing drivers

Driving your own vehicle for a ridesharing company—Uber and Lyft are the most well-known—has become a popular side gig. Some drivers are illegally using their personal auto policies to insure their vehicles.

Rideshare drivers are not covered by their personal auto insurance policies. They are required to have a commercial or rideshare-specific auto insurance policy to cover them while they are driving for profit. In recent years, insurance companies have created products to cover drivers during the different periods – waiting to be hailed, en route to pick up a passenger, and while driving a passenger. Some of those policies are commercial, some of them are hybrid products that are in addition to your personal auto insurance. In addition, Uber and Lyft offer their own coverage for liability for passengers and third parties in the case of a collision.

If you are a rideshare driver and file a claim with your personal, non-rideshare auto insurance company for a collision that happened while you were on the clock, you are breaking the law. There are scores of online forums and sites that give drivers tips on how to get away with insurance fraud. Here are some reasons why you should not do that:
  • When the insurance company finds something amiss—and they will, they spend millions of dollars a year rooting out fraud—they are legally required to refer you to our office to be criminally investigated. 
  • You could be charged with filing a false insurance claim, attempted theft or theft, to start. If you are convicted or plead guilty, you could have a felony on your record for the rest of your life. 
  • Your auto insurer will likely opt to not renew your auto policy. You may have a hard time finding an auto insurance policy after being charged with insurance fraud and if you do, it will certainly cost you more than you used to pay. 
Cutting corners on insurance might seem like a way to save on business costs. In the long run, you are much better off paying for insurance that covers your rideshare business than possibly facing criminal charges.

More information about ridesharing and insurance.

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Medicare card scams hit nationwide

Medicare started mailing new cards to beneficiaries in April and will finish mailing them nationwide in a year. In Washington state, beneficiaries will start receiving their replacement cards this July.

The cards have a new look but, most importantly, they have unique numbers to replace the Social Security numbers previously used on the cards. Medicare created the new cards to reduce identity theft and fraud.
New Medicare card design

Ironically, fraudsters are capitalizing on the change to deceive beneficiaries. They may have many details about individuals, often gleaned from social media and other publicly available resources. They sound convincing.

The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) helps beneficiaries fight back. SMP staff work in communities across the country to teach beneficiaries how to prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud, errors, and abuse.

Here are some Medicare card scams that SMP is seeing:

The new Medicare cards don’t cost anything!
  • Telling Medicare beneficiaries they need to pay to obtain a new card. Fake charges range from $5 to $400.
  • A person claiming to be from a government agency says they need your bank account information to deposit funds into your Medicare account.
Fact: The new cards are free -- you do NOT need to pay for your new card and you don’t need to do anything to get it. Medicare will automatically mail your new card to you. In fact, you can sign up to get an email from Medicare to know when to expect your card in the mail.

You don’t need to get personal
You need to confirm or give personal information to get your new card.

Fact: You do NOT need to give any personal information to get your new card. The cards are mailed to the address you have on file with Social Security. You can update your address online, call 1-800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office.

No one will cancel your Medicare insurance
You need to provide your old Medicare card number to prevent your insurance from being interrupted while new cards are being mailed out.

Fact: Your Medicare coverage will not be interrupted or stopped because of your new card being mailed to you. 

For more information about Medicare card scams and other scams, contact Washington state's SMP, which is part of our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program, at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Insurance tips for recent college grads

It's graduation season and lots of new college graduates are embarking on their career journeys. Many college grads find themselves needing to make important insurance-related decisions. By better understanding insurance policies and your needs at this stage, you can get the most out of the money you spend on insurance.

Renter insurance
Renter insurance can protect your personal property against damage or loss and also protects you in case someone is injured while in your residence. If you plan to rent an apartment or other residence, here is more information about how renter insurance works.

You might be sharing your apartment or house with roommates. In this case, you likely need an individual policy that covers you and your possessions if something should happen. Speaking of your stuff, the best way to make sure you get reimbursed for your contents is to make a home inventory.

Health insurance
As you sort through job prospects, make sure salary isn't your only consideration. Health insurance is perhaps the most important job-related benefit. Study the health plans prospective employers provide and make inquiries about your options and the out-of-pocket costs. Weigh this against the cost of remaining on a parent's plan. The Affordable Care Act law allows you to stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you turn 26. Read more about understanding health insurance.

Auto insurance
Will you be looking for a car soon? Remember to factor in the cost of auto insurance. If the car was a graduation gift or you are jumping off your parents' auto insurance policy, it's time for you to discuss your coverage with an agent.

If you drive an older car that is paid off, you might consider dropping collision or comprehensive coverage as a way to cut expenses. Talk to your insurance agent or broker about the cost of collision and comprehensive coverage versus the value of the car.

Washington state requires you to maintain auto liability insurance to cover losses caused by your negligence. To avoid penalties, pay your premiums on time and don't let your coverage lapse. Have you filed a claim recently? Ask your insurance agent or broker about accident forgiveness, which may lower your rates.

Read more about understanding auto insurance.

Life insurance
There are differing opinions about the importance of purchasing life insurance before you have a family of your own. If you are single, you should make choices based on your finances, health and other circumstances. Talk to an insurance agent or broker to learn more. Some prudent steps and asking the right questions of your insurance professional can help you control your insurance costs.

Read more about understanding life insurance.

More information
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has insurance information for young singles and single parents. To find out if an agent selling home, health, auto or life insurance is licensed in Washington state, or if you have questions about insurance, contact us at