Thursday, September 29, 2011

Job openings: Actuaries, actuarial analyst, market conduct examiner

  • Actuaries: Due to retirements, we have two openings for actuaries now, helping with financial examinations, analysis and licensing of life insurers or health insurers. Other typical duties include reviewing rates, equity-indexed annuities, etc. For details on these jobs, including salary and benefits, please see this job listing for both acturarial jobs.

  • Actuarial analyst: We're also looking for an actuarial analyst to fill a vacancy created when a staffer shifted over to a federally-funded project that we're working on (part of health care reform). Duties include reviewing actuarial calculations submitted by health insurance carriers to determine if rate requests are justified. For specifics, here's that job listing. The deadline for applying is 4:59 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6.

  • Market Conduct Examiner: We also have a vacancy in our Seattle office for a market conduct examiner. This job includes reviewing and analyzing company records and procedures. Here's a detailed job listing, including other duties, salary, etc. The deadline for applying is 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011.

Home warranty company ordered to stop selling illegal coverage

A Florida company, its principals and subsidiaries have been ordered to stop selling unauthorized home warranties in Washington state.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has ordered International Warranty Administration Services, Inc. and related entities to stop selling service contracts in Washington. The company and its subsidiaries are believed to have sold dozens of unauthorized service contracts in the state, but are not licensed to solicit insurance here.

Kreidler's order also includes The Metropolitan Benefit Group, Inc., doing business as HomeChoice Plans, HomeChoice Household Service Plans, Choice Plans LLC, and "ChoicePlans a division of the IWASI Group." Also named were International Warranty Administration Services' principals Kacey L. Crouch, also known as Kasey L. Crouch, and Mark Lowenstein.

See the link above for the full text of the order.

Insurance agents and brokers fined for violations

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has ordered fines and other disciplinary action for more than a dozen insurance agents and brokers.

Violations include failing to properly disclose fees, using a false Social Security number and wrongly disclosing a customer’s private health information.

“I should point out that these cases are only a tiny fraction of the more than 118,000 agents and brokers licensed to do business here in Washington,” said Kreidler.

Any Washingtonian with a complaint against an insurer, agent or broker can contact Kreidler’s office at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/.

Any fines collected do not go to the agency. They are deposited in the state’s general fund to pay for other state services.

Fines and disciplinary actions from early June through early September include:

■HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., New York, NY: Fined $7,000 for violations including failing to report administrative actions taken against it.

■Conover Insurance Inc., Yakima, Wash.: Fined $6,000 for providing false information on 12 license renewal applications.

■Kimberly A. Kelly, doing business as Peoples Insurance Agency, Inc., Renton, Wash.: Fined $250 for using a fee disclosure form that didn’t comply with state law.

■Kimberly D. Brookey, Kent, Wash.: Fined $250 for using a fee disclosure form that didn’t comply with state law.

■Ryan J. Graczyk, Spokane Valley, Wash.: Fined $500 for incorrectly and incompletely answering questions on a disclosure form to a consumer.

■Warren M. King, doing business as Exact Financial Group, Inc., Renton, Wash.: Fined $500 for violations including submitting a life insurance application with inaccurate information.

■Swiss Valley Agency, Inc., doing business as North Town Insurance, Spokane, Wash.: Fined $250 for using a fee disclosure form that didn’t comply with state law.

■Rick L. Clatfelter, Chandler, Ariz.: License not renewed for making misleading statements on an insurance application.

■Lucky Bail Bonds, Inc. and Eric Arps, Bellingham, Wash.: Fined $5,500 for violations including misrepresenting to the court that he personally completed and signed certain documents.

■Robert J. Mills Jr., Wilton, CT: Fined $5,000 and ordered to stop selling insurance in Washington without a license.

■Colleen S. Schmertz, Bellingham, Wash.: Fined $500 for issuing bail bonds without a proper insurance license.

■Maria E. Bejines, Monroe, Wash.: License revoked for violations including using a false Social Security number on her insurance license application.

■Phyllis N. Golden, Seattle, Wash.: Fined $250 for providing false information about continuing education courses.

■Tiffany Lynn Lewis, Irving, Tx.: License revoked due to a felony conviction for stealing money from a client.

■Northpoint Escrow & Title, LLC, Bellevue, Wash: Fined $500 for improperly sponsoring a promotional event.

■James Timothy Shelnut, Augusta, Ga.: License revoked for failing to report administrative actions in other states, including violations of Georgia’s Ethics in Government Act.

■Ticor Title Co., Renton, Wash.: Fined $1,500 for improperly sponsoring a promotional event and offering to refund class tuition if attendees failed the quiz at the end of the class.

Orders and specific details about each of these cases are posted online at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/orders/enforcement.asp.

Note: In some cases, the fines were larger, but a portion was suspended on the condition that the companies follow compliance plans to remedy the problems. The fines listed above are what’s actually being paid.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Insurers fined for violations

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fined insurance companies nearly $1 million this year for violating Washington insurance laws. Violations included charging unapproved rates, improper advertising, and failing to offer health coverage to children.
The fines collected do not go to the agency. They are deposited in the state’s general fund to pay for other state services.
Any Washingtonian with a complaint against an insurer, agent or broker can contact the office at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/.

Fines and other disciplinary actions against insurers from June to September include:
■UNUM Life Insurance Co., Portland, Me.: Fined $75,000 for selling long term care coverage using unapproved policies.

■Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, Ill: Fined $50,000 for issuing policies using unfiled and unapproved rates.

■UnitedHealthCare, Hartford, Conn.: Fined $26,000 for sending people wishing to appeal the insurer’s decisions to the wrong entity.

■Arch Insurance Co., Kansas City, Mo.: Fined $20,000 for violations including failing to keep adequate accounts and records.

■Chicago Title Insurance Co., Omaha, Neb.: Fined $10,000 for improperly advertising with producers of title insurance business.

■Lifewise Health Plan of Washington, Mountlake Terrace, Wash.: Fined $10,000 for failing to offer coverage to children in certain cases.

■Metropolitan Life Insurance, New York, NY: Fined $10,000 for failing to calculate benefit amounts in accordance with Washington law.

■Victoria Fire & Casualty Co., Cleveland, Ohio: Fined $5,000 for failing to adequately respond to inquiries.

■Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. (Santa Barbara, Calif.) Chicago Title Insurance Co. and Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co. (both of Omaha, Neb.): Ordered to stop offering discounts to producers of title insurance business.

Orders and details about each of these cases are posted online at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/orders/enforcement.asp.

Note: In some cases, the fines were larger, but a portion was suspended on the condition that the companies follow compliance plans to remedy the problems. The fines listed above are what’s actually being paid.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two more health plans request rate changes

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest is requesting a 9% average rate increase for its individual health plans (health plan you buy yourself) and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon is asking to lower its small employer plan rates (health plans for employers with 1-50 employees) by an average of 1.6%.

See the all of the information submitted with the rate requests and a brief summary of both on our new health rate page. Both rates, if approved, take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Bizarre insurance claims

Forbes has posted a list of bizarre insurance claims compiled by Chartis Insurance Co. Don't try these at home. Among them:

A man who set his Porsche on fire trying to dry out the floor mat with a leaf blower.

Someone who slowly melted an Andy Warhol painting by hanging it above a fireplace.

A man who managed to destroy his car engine -- and the car was a Bentley Continental -- by trying to charge it up by setting a brick on the accelerator, and then going to take a shower. The overheated engine seized.

Click on the link above for the rest.

Kreidler: Health insurer rate requests now public

For the first time, consumers can now see health insurers' complete rate requests, Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recently told Comcast's Newsmakers program.

Kreidler pushed for a change in state law to allow the forms to be disclosed. Soon, consumers will not only be able to view the documents easily online, but comment on the requested rates.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to appeal when your insurer says no

We've updated our online guide showing how you can file an appeal when your health insurer denies a claim or turns down a medical procedure. We've added sample letters, tips, and updated it to reflect new regulations.

See "How to Appeal a Health Care Insurance Decision: A Guide for Consumers in Washington State."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Premera's rate increase disapproved

We've disapproved a request from Premera Blue Cross to increase its individual health plans by 3.1 percent. The company used a medical trend of 7.24 percent to calculate its increase. Medical trend is the change in claims costs over a specific period of time (usually one year) and is often based on both the company's past claims costs and what they expect to spend on claims in the future.

After a careful review of the company's supporting documentation, we don't believe it made its case - specifically, we believe the annual medical trend is likely to be 5.17 percent or less.

The rate was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012 and would've impacted 4,039 people.

See if your health plan has filed rate change.

Parents: If you need individual coverage for your children, open enrollment is NOW

Open enrollment for individual health plans started Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 31. (Individual health plans are those bought by individuals, as opposed to health plans offered by employers or groups.)

We can't say this enough: If you need health insurance for your child, make sure you enroll early. If you miss this open enrollment period, you'll have to wait until March 15, 2012, unless you meet certain qualifications. And if you wait until even the beginning of October, your coverage may not kick in until Nov. 1.

Federal health reform prevents health insurers from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing health condition. However, just like employer-sponsored health plans, insurers can create open enrollment periods. During these open-enrollment times, children under age 19 do not have to complete a health questionnaire and cannot be denied health insurance.

We should note that there are some exceptions. You can apply for coverage for your child anytime, for example, after the birth or adoption of a child, or when the parent:

  • Is no longer eligible for a state program such as Medicaid.

  • Loses coverage due to a divorce.

  • Loses employer-sponsored coverage (including COBRA coverage).

  • Moves and their plan is not available where they live.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Alien abduction insurance? Really? Really.

Bloomberg Businessweek's Joel Stonington has put together an interesting slide show of "the oddest insured things", from Bruce Springsteen's voice ($5.7 million) to the hard-working tongue of a British coffee taster ($16 million).

Arguably the most interesting detail, though, is the fact that one insurer apparently offers insurance in case you are abducted by aliens. Stonington notes that the insurer "is currently paying out on a pair of claims deemed legitimate."

See the link above for the slideshow.

Group Health seeks rate hike

Group Health Options has requested a 11.6% rate increase for its small employer plans. The rate is currently under review and if approved, would take effect Jan. 1, 2012. Group Health Cooperative filed a 0% rate change for its small employer plans.

Summaries of all individual and small employer plan rate requests and memos detailing our decisions can be found on our new Web page www.insurance.wa.gov/health-rates.shtml.

We're able to post these requests and the entire rate filings thanks to a bill passed last session (HB 1220). For years, we've heard from consumers upset with the rising costs of their health insurance - and rightly so. Health care costs are rising well above the rate of general inflation. Unfortunately, before this new law, all rate requests were considered proprietary.

If someone contacted us for information, we could only say "trust us, we carefully reviewed the rate change, and it's justified." Not a lot of comfort if you've experienced double-double digit increases year after year.

Now - thanks to this new law - you can see what we see: How your company spent your premium. and how much of it went to pay medical claims, cover administrative costs (including salaries) and how much was profit.

Our authority over these rates is still limited. If the company can justify the change and prove that the rate is reasonable in relation to the benefit the plan provides, then we must accept it. But at least now if you're paying more for your health plan, you know why.

Other insurers with pending rate requests for small or individual health plans include: Asuris Northwest Health, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, Lifewise Health Plan of Washington, Premera Blue Cross, Providence Health Plan, and Regence BlueShield.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tacoma insurance agent charged with theft

An insurance agent in Tacoma has been charged with theft for misppropriating checks from dozens of policyholders.

Michel Anthony James, an independent contractor working as an agent for State Farm, is believed to have deposited checks from more than 40 policyholders into his own business bank account. State Farm discovered the problems when it audited James' accounts.

Based on a subsequent iinvestigation by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's Special Investigations Unit, James:
  •  failed to apply premiums to policies,
  • wrongly withdrew cash from his premium fund account (which is where those policyholder checks were supposed to go),
  • failed to refund overpayments to policyholders,
  • and violated contractual agreements with State Farm.
He has been charged in Pierce County Superior Court with one count of first-degree theft.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Small-business health insurance tax credits: key deadlines and tips

If you're a small business that provides health coverage for employees -- or wants to -- a couple of key deadlines for taking advantage of tax credits are coming up soon.

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
If you have up to 25 employees, pay average annual wages below $50,000, and provide health insurance, you may qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 35% (up to 25% for non-profits) to offset the cost of your insurance. This will bring down the cost of providing insurance.

In order to take advantage of these tax credits, you must file by a certain date. Here are two important tax filing deadlines in coming weeks that you should be aware of:
  • September 15. Corporations that file on a calendar year basis and requested an extension to file to September 15 can calculate the small employer health care credit on Form 8941 and claim it as part of the general business credit on Form 3800, which they would include with their corporate income tax return.
  • October 17. Sole proprietors who file Form 1040 and partners and S-corporation shareholders who report their income on Form 1040 have until October 17 to complete their returns. They would also use Form 8941 to calculate the small employer health care credit and claim it as a general business credit on Form 3800, reflected on line 53 of Form 1040.
Important tips:
  • Even if you've already filed your 2010 taxes, you can still claim the credit. Just file an amended 2010 return.
  • Even if you don't have tax liability this year, you can still benefit, since eligible small businesses can carry back the tax credit five years. (It used to be that you could carry back general business credits like this just one year.)
  • Businesses that couldn't use the credit in 2010 can claim it in future years. 
See the link above for more details and specifics.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kreidler orders Regence to fix health insurance problems

We just issued a press release about The Regence Group and its subsidiaries here, which have been having ongoing problems with billing and claims, including a computer system error that resulted in more than 6,000 incorrect transactions.

The same error apparently caused Regence to accidentally withdraw money from the bank accounts of people are not even Regence members. (Some of the withdrawals totaled thousands of dollars.) In the process, some Regence members' names and identification numbers were accidentally disclosed to strangers.

Last week, we and insurance regulators from three other states -- Oregon, Idaho and Utah -- met with Regence Group CEO Mark Ganz and other company officials in Salem, Ore. We provided the company with a list of the problems we've noted or that consumers have complained to us about.

For more details, please see the news release link above.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Need health insurance for your children?

Open enrollment for individual health plans starts Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 31. If you need health insurance for your child, make sure you enroll early. If you miss this open enrollment period, you'll have to wait until March 15, 2012, unless you meet certain qualifications.

And if you wait until even the beginning of October, your coverage may not kick in until Nov. 1.

Federal health reform prevents health insurers from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing health condition. However, just like employer-sponsored health plans, insurers can create open enrollment periods. During these times, children under age 19 do not have to complete a health questionnaire and cannot be denied health insurance.

These open enrollment periods apply to all individual health plans. People buying this type of coverage do not get health insurance from their employer or their employer doesn't cover dependents.

Exceptions where you can apply for coverage for your child anytime include after the birth or adoption of a child, or the parent:

Is no longer eligible for a state program such as Medicaid.
Loses coverage due to a divorce.
Loses employer-sponsored coverage (including COBRA coverage).
Moves and their plan is not available where they live.

Need more help understanding the open enrollment periods or think you're not being treated fairly? Send us an e-mail or file a complaint with us.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September is National Preparedness Month

We know, we know. National designations like these often fade into the ether. But why not pay attention this time? Recent earthquakes - even if on the other coast - and hurricanes ripping up the eastern seaboard should make us pay attention. Let this be the call to see how prepared you are.

Do you have flood insurance? Should you have it? How about earthquake insurance? We can help you learn more about these types of coverage at www.insurance.wa.gov.

Why not take an part of an evening this month to look at your homeowner policy. And talk to your family about your emergency plan. Don't have one? Well, now's the time. What are you waiting for?

Here's some more help to get you started.