Thursday, February 27, 2014

What if I need to see a provider that's not in my health plan's network?

Many of  the health plans for sale in Washington's new Exchange - Wahealthplanfinder - have narrower provider networks. This trend helps keeps premiums down, but it can be confusing and upsetting to consumers who are used to seeing certain providers.

If you don't qualify for a subsidy and you want a broader selection of providers, you may want to consider buying a health plan outside of the Exchange. You can do so by contacting a health insurer directly or an insurance agent can help you. Here's a list of all plans available inside and outside the Exchange by county. Make sure you check the plan's provider directory before you sign up.

Consider these tips on network issues to consider before signing up for coverage.

If you need medical care that cannot be provided by a provider or facility in your plan's network, your health plan must allow you to see the out-of-network provider network at no greater cost than if they were a contracted provider. Read more about your rights to see certain providers.

If you believe you're being treated unfairly by your insurance company, file a complaint with us - we'll look into if for you and make sure your health plan is following the rules.

Want to get more involved? We're currently working on new rules about provider networks. One of the goals is to increase transparency - so you know which providers are covered by your plan and how to access care you need, if they're not. Join our listsev to get updates on this new rule.

Want to work at OIC? We are hiring!

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has three positions open in its Tumwater office. All are open until filled.

  • Financial Examiner 4 (Senior Financial Analyst) to examine and analyze insurance companies and health carrier filings to discern financial condition, difficulties, trends and compliance. This position also supervises three financial examiners in our Company Supervision division. 
  • Investigator 4 (Supervisor) to investigate complaints against insurance companies, agents and brokers. This position also supervises seven investigators in our Legal Affairs division. 
  • Human Resource Consultant Assistant 2 to help with all things human resources, including working in the state’s Human Resources Management (HRMS) system.

OIC is a small state agency – just over 200 employees statewide – and our mission is to protect consumers, the public interest, and our state’s economy through fair and efficient regulation of the insurance industry. Read more about our agency on our website.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kreidler orders insurance loan seller to stop doing business in Washington

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued a cease and desist order against Insurance Finance Corp., headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. The company has been illegally financing insurance premiums in Washington and charging consumers more than allowed under state law.

Essentially, Insurance Finance Corp. sells loans to people who purchase insurance and can’t or don’t want to pay the full premium up front. This type of loan is typically sought by people who purchase commercial insurance policies. Individual policies, including homeowner, renter and auto insurance, typically allow consumers to pay a monthly premium rather than making large yearly or twice-yearly payments.

Kreidler ordered Insurance Finance Corp. to stop doing business in Washington because it violated two state laws – it’s not licensed to do business in Washington and it is overcharging Washington customers. State law limits service charges to $10 per $100,000 per year, and a one-time acquisition charge of $10 per loan.

We identified 429 Washington customers who have purchased loans totaling more than $630,000 from August 2010 through July 2013. However, there could be more customers that we have not identified. We are unable to determine the total amount of overcharges to Washington customers until we can identify all of its customers and loans. Customers may have been referred to the firm by insurance brokers and agents. Washington insurance agents and brokers can help by not referring clients to Insurance Finance Corp. while the cease and desist order is in place.

Insurance Finance Corp. has 90 days to appeal the cease and desist order.

Anyone who sells insurance or insurance products to people in Washington must be licensed by OIC. You can look up a company’s licensing status and see if a company has complaints on our website.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hearing Feb. 25 on consolidation of Western United Life Assurance company

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is holding a hearing at noon on Feb. 25 to consider a consolidation request from Western United Life Assurance Company in Spokane.

This request involves two entities--Investors Consolidated Insurance Co., a New Hampshire-based company, and Western United Life Assurance Co., both subsidiaries of Central United Life Insurance Company and Harris Insurance Holdings, Inc. in Houston. 
Investors Consolidated wants to change its domicile—base of operations—to Spokane from New Hampshire. Immediately thereafter, Investors Consolidated and Western United Life, which is already based in Spokane, want to merge and retain the corporate name of Western United Life Assurance Co.

Anyone who is interested in weighing in on the relocation and merger may submit comments and may also attend the hearing in person or by telephone.
Hearing location:

Office of the Insurance Commissioner5000 Capitol Blvd.Tumwater, WA 98501
To participate by phone, call (877) 668-4493, followed by access code 231 993 38.

Submit comments to:
For more information:
View the Notice of Hearing, which includes advice on how to participate in the hearing process.
View all documents filed in this matter under Western United Life #14-0004.

Friday, February 14, 2014

After you put a ring on it, think about insurance changes

Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day and it’s a popular time of year to pop the question or get married. If you are a taking the plunge soon, here are some insurance matters you will need to address.

Jewelry rider

The first step in getting engaged is typically purchasing an engagement ring. The average cost of an engagement ring this year is nearly $3,500—does your homeowner or renter insurance policy cover the cost of replacing engagement and wedding rings that may exceed $5,000 for both bride and groom? If not, you may be able to purchase a jewelry rider, which is a supplemental policy that covers jewelry that has a value that exceeds the standard policy. Many riders require an appraisal or documentation that may come with your new jewelry purchase.

Homeowner or renter insurance

Combining households also means combining your belongings. Make an inventory of all of your belongings—including wedding gifts -- to determine how much coverage you'll need. It will also make filing a claim easier in the event of a loss or disaster. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a free home inventory app for iPhones and Android phones; you can also download a PDF version. High-value items like artwork, collectables or jewelry may need a personal property rider in addition to your homeowners policy.

If you are moving into a new residence, remember that its location, size of the home and construction type are factors that determine your insurance premium.

Don't immediately cancel a policy on a residence that you are vacating. There is a higher risk of unforeseen damage, such as burst water pipes, fire or theft that can be costly to remedy without the insurance coverage. Ask your insurance agent about a supplemental endorsement that will provide coverage on the home if it is vacant for an extended period of time.

Auto insurance

Married couples have the option of combining their auto insurance policies, but most newlyweds don't discuss their spouse's driving record before getting married. A poor driving record could increase the cost of your premiums. If that affects you, talk to your insurance agent about a named driver exclusion. Other factors that affect your premium are make, model and age of the vehicle.

As a newlywed, you may be eligible for discounts. Some insurance companies consider married couples a lower risk, which could result in lower rates. You may be eligible for discounts if you combine your auto policies or buy auto coverage from the same company that carries your homeowner or renter policies.

Health insurance

When deciding what to do about your health insurance, evaluate your current and future health care needs. You will also want to compare the cost of adding your spouse to your policy against keeping your own health insurance.

If you have health insurance through an employer, you are allowed to add your spouse to your plan outside of the open enrollment period. Contact your company's benefits administrator to find out what you need to do.

For individual plans, contact your insurance agent or company for specific enrollment requirements for spouses. Insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor can they charge more based on medical history. You will need your spouse's Social Security number and income information to add him/her to your plan.

Life insurance

It's never easy to talk about life insurance, especially during such a happy time, but it may help secure your family's financial future. To calculate your needs, consider future income, the cost of raising children and any large outstanding debts such as school loans or mortgage payments. If either or both of you have life insurance, check with your agent about updating your beneficiary information. Remember to check with your employer about any life insurance benefits offered through work.

More information

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Consumer question: Don’t my agent and insurance company have to make sure I’m getting their best rates and coverage?

Although you’d think that would be a good way to keep you as a customer, the answer is “no.” The best time to ask about the most cost-effective coverage is at the time of application. It’s always good to ask your agent to offer multiple options for the type of coverage you are looking for.

You can always ask questions about your rates and coverage during the policy period and you are free to change insurers anytime you wish to. Choosing insurance is not like choosing a cell phone plan, where they lock you in for two years.

Generally speaking, you want to be the one asking questions about how to save money or improve coverage on your insurance policies. Most insurers are not going to offer up ways for you to save money once you’ve bought a policy. Think of it this way: You are the custodian of your policies, and it’s up to you to be aware of what they cover and to ask questions when you need clarification and help. You also have the freedom to find other coverage.

Remember, if you feel like your insurance company is not doing its job, you can call our consumer experts at 800-562-6900 or file a complaint online.

It's always a good idea to make sure your insurance agent or broker is licensed to sell insurance in Washington.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking for car insurance? You may want to avoid buying in March

A study released in late January showed that, nationally, car insurance policies purchased in December were 8 percent cheaper than polices that were purchased in March, the most expensive month. The yearlong study, conducted by, couldn’t pinpoint a cause for the variance. However, the report did note that rate increases and inflation adjustments often take effect in January.

Furthermore, rates varied widely by state. In Washington, rates varied 14.1 percent from the highest month—March--to the lowest month, which was not specified. The average monthly cost in the Evergreen State is $94, compared to $99 per month nationally. The biggest fluctuation was in Hawaii, where rates were 48 percent lower in December than they were in March.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) said many factors could be at play, including weather patterns, risks and costs that differ by state and even zip codes within a state, and changes in state law that may affect rates.

Read more:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Health reform will free many from “job lock”

A report this week from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office contains a section that mentions how health-care reform offers many people relief from “job lock.”

That’s a reference to those who stick with a job simply to maintain their employer-based health insurance. Until the Affordable Care Act, they had no other option. Now, many people – perhaps 2 million or more – will be able to take advantage of new subsidies for health insurance and the new marketplaces for individual policies.

Simply put, many people have options for health insurance that no longer depend on a job. They’ll be able to retire earlier, adjust their work life with home life, work fewer hours, start a business or pursue other vocations. It’s their choice.

Those are good things, right? But opponents of the Affordable Care Act have trotted out the usual histrionics, shouting about “job killing” and destruction of the economy, accusations that have no factual basis. Some even call it “willful stupidity.”

The deceptive rhetoric ties in with the detractors' stated desire to return to the good old days of allowing insurance companies to reject health care to individuals because of a previous illness. They’d also create more havoc for consumers by allowing health policies to be sold across state lines, which would weaken protections and hurt in-state firms.

The caution and suggestion here is to dig a little deeper below the headlines. But don’t take just our word on this. Check out what a professor of pediatrics from the Midwest had to say about the newest criticism of the Affordable Care Act.

And see how health reform is already helping and will further assist Washington citizens in our updated report on the uninsured in our state.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Affordable Care Act in Washington: helping consumers, stimulating job diversity

The Washington state Legislature today held a hearing on Senate Bill 6464, which would allow Washington consumers to purchase catastrophic plans from states outside of Washington. In November, Insurance Commissioner Kreidler said allowing catastrophic plans is not “a good deal for Washington state.” Furthermore, allowing consumers to purchase out-of-state plans opens the door for health insurers to skirt Washington’s regulations that protect consumers.

Washington citizens have been covered by health insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder for a little more than a month now. Let’s take a look at the numbers so far:

  • We recently published a report on uninsured and underinsured people in Washington for 2012. Approximately 14.5 percent of Washington citizens were uninsured before 2014, exceeding 990,000 people.
  • More than 325,000 people have purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder.
  • 33.1 percent of eligible Washingtonians have purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, leading the country alongside Vermont, with 33.4 percent, in percentage of people insured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • Washington expanded Medicaid, now called Apple Health, to cover more than 516,000 people who qualify for free health insurance. Washington will eventually expand its coverage to more than 800,000 people who qualify.
  • Other benefits under the Affordable Care Act are no out-of-pocket costs to consumers for preventive care; people with chronic medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, heart disease or cancer no longer can be denied coverage; and health insurers can no longer hold consumers to an annual or lifetime maximum limit on what they will pay for.

Today, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office released a report projecting the Affordable Care Act will allow people to leave traditional full-time jobs—the ones that historically have provided medical insurance—because they now can sign up through a state or federal Health Benefit Exchange. The side of that story the media isn’t telling, however, is that people who’ve historically been locked into those jobs can pursue other types of work – starting a small business, working as an independent contractor from home, pursuing a career as an artisan or writer, or many other options that will still benefit the economy. The ACA allows them to pursue whatever line of work they wish to, because they are not beholden to an 8-to-5 office or government job in order to have health insurance.

In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Urban Institute and Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute in 2013 reported that the number of self-employed Americans is projected to increase by 1.5 million people this year—11 percent-- as a direct result of their ability to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Read more in the New York Times Economix blog. In Washington state, that number is projected to increase by 30,000, or 8.7 percent.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Our consumer experts are here to help—in any language

A big part of what we do is help consumers who have questions about insurance or who are experiencing trouble with their insurance policy or company. In 2013, we responded to more than 5,000 inquiries from consumers and helped recover $8.4 million in insurance billings, refunds and other claims-related issues. Did you know the Insurance Commissioner’s Office has consumer experts who can help people who have hearing loss and people in nearly any language?

We have 17 consumer advocates; four of our employees also speak also Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog or American Sign Language. For all other languages, we contract with a company that provides interpretation services. We also have a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) for callers who have hearing or speech impairments.

We can help:

Consumers can reach us by phone at 1-800-562-6900, online via our web form or even in person at our Tumwater office.

Read more about consumer advocacy at OIC.