Thursday, November 18, 2010

Flood coverage: Where to find it -- and what if you can't?

November in the Pacific Northwest generally means rain, and lots of it. (See also December, February, March, April and sometimes May.)

As the rivers swell, we tend to get nervous queries from consumers and businesses about flood insurance. Here are the basics, as well as some special information for businesses in Washington state's Green River Valley.

Does a standard homeowners' insurance cover flooding? No. Many people think it does. It does not.

Where do I get flood coverage? For most consumers and many businesses, the first stop is the National Flood Insurance Program, a federally run program that's been around for decades. But the business coverage maxes out at $500,000 per building and $500,000 for contents, so businesses may need extra coverage as well.

What's it cost? The average federal flood insurance policy costs less than $570 per year.

Am I in a flood zone? Here's a page to search flood maps. You can also get a quick risk estimate by typing your address into the feds' "one-step flood risk profile."

I heard that the federal flood insurance program was suspended. It was, but isn't anymore. The program lapsed several times this year, but Congress in late September reauthorized the program for another year.

Who sells it? Although it's a federally run program, it's sold by many insurance agents. To find a local one who sells it, see the program's agent locator.

And here's the special information for businesses in Washington's Green River Valley, which is in south King County. Last year, businesses in the area reported problems finding additional coverage. To help, we set up a "market assistance plan" that acts as a matchmaker between businesses and insurers. If you live in that area and can't find coverage for your business, the odds are good that the market assistance plan can help you.

For more, please see our flood information page.

More from our case files...

Having trouble with an insurance company, agent or broker? Give us a call; we can often help. We're the government agency that regulates the insurance industry in Washington state. (If you don't live in Washington, here's an easy map with contact info for our counterparts in your own state.)

In Washington state, we're at 1-800-562-6900 or You can now also file a complaint easily online.

Here's a sampling of the sorts of things we help with virtually every day:
  • A woman contacted us on behalf of her 75-year-old mother, who had forgotten to pay her long-term care insurance premium due to health issues. The company had cancelled the policy for non-payment. After multiple attempts to have the policy reinstated, the daughter sought our help. The policy was reinstated.
  • A company that had sold an illegal discount health plan here agreed to pay a consumer $3,825.
  • A widow whose annuity request had been delayed complained to us. We contacted the company, which honored the request, sending her a check for more than $250,000.