Friday, May 30, 2014

Life insurance: Do your heirs a favor and check your policies, wills from time to time

Life insurance can be a complicated topic under the best circumstances. However, things can quickly become more complicated than you bargained for. Recently, our consumer advocates received an inquiry about what happens to a life insurance policy payout if the person who is named as the beneficiary has died. 
In Washington, the life insurance payment would go to the beneficiary/ies named on the policy. If the person named as beneficiary has died, the money would go to the policyholder’s estate. The person named as the estate’s representative would distribute the money in accordance with the terms of the policyholder’s will. If there are no terms laid out in the policyholder’s will, the designated personal representative is responsible for deciding how to distribute the assets. The personal representative is obligated to act in the best interest of the estate rather than his own best interest. 
Insurance companies are not obligated to follow the terms of a policyholder’s will and typically refuse seeing a person’s will even if someone offers to share it because they don’t want the responsibility of trying to split an insurance payout among multiple parties.
However, many consumers do not have a will or don’t have enough assets to require the estate to go through probate. In that case, the life insurance company would send the money to the Washington state Department of Revenue’s unclaimed property.  
Another factor is whether the consumer was married and living in a community property state at the time s/he bought the policy. In community property state, including Washington, spouses are entitled to 50 percent of a life insurance policy’s proceeds, even if the spouse isn’t listed as a beneficiary of the policy.    
If the policy lists more than one beneficiary and one or more has died at the time of the policy’s proceeds are claimed, there’s a chance the decision will be made by a court.  
The lessons here are:
  • Review your insurance policies periodically to take a look at your beneficiaries.
  • Review your will periodically to take a look at the terms.
  • If you don’t have a will, make one. You can use an attorney or you can find free will templates online. If you do your own will, Washington state law requires that you get it notarized or have two people witness you signing it. It doesn’t need to be filed until after you die, and it’s a good idea to give your personal representative(s) a copy along with your heirs. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy for yourself somewhere safe that is not at your home, in case of a natural disaster or fire. Do not keep the only copy of your will in a safe, because your heirs likely will need a court order to open your safe to see your will.
If you have a complicated estate or property holdings, it is best to consult an attorney to make sure your wishes are documented. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Entry-level IT help desk position open at our headquarters

We are hiring a non-permanent Information Technology Technician 2 in our Tumwater headquarters. The position is expected to last 12 months and will support laptop and desktop computers for more than 230 employees, agency-wide. This is an entry-level position that reports to our IT Service Desk Lead.

This position requires two years of experience in information technology-related activities such as testing, installing, maintaining, supporting, and/or averting hardware/software system failures on client applications, hardware and software products, mainframe systems, network infrastructure equipment, or telecommunications software or hardware.

The job closes on June 9. To find out more or apply, visit View all of our job openings here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Make sure you are covered when you move

This is a popular time of year to move and it’s also National Moving Month. College students are moving for the summer and many families opt to move this time of year as well. Seattle media recently reported the theft of two fully loaded U-Hauls that contained the entirety of the consumers’ possessions. 
Here are some tips for moving, whether you hire a mover or do the move yourself:
  • Inventory your belongings. If need to make a claim, you will expedite the process if you know what you lost. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has an iPhone app, an Android app and a printable PDF form.
  • Contact your insurance company to find out if your homeowner or renter insurance covers your belongings while you are in transit and to transfer your coverage from your old residence to your new residence.
  • If you rent a moving trailer or vehicle, make sure your auto policy covers your use of the vehicle before you decline the rental company’s insurance. Some auto policies exclude vehicles that exceed a certain weight.
Questions? Contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or online

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Olympia man gets 30 days in jail for bad claim

An Olympia man who filed a fraudulent insurance claim with State Farm was recently sentenced to 30 days in jail, one year of probation, restitution to State Farm in an amount that will be determined, and court fees.

In November 2012, Allen C. Deen, 23, filed a $3,795 claim with State Farm for damage to his 2008 Ducati motorcycle. In the claim, he said the damage occurred when he was pushing it across grass, slipped and fell with the motorcycle. State Farm found records that it had paid a $6,577 claim on the same motorcycle for the same damage in May 2012 to another customer, who previously owned the motorcycle. The previous owner had sold the damaged motorcycle to Deen “as is” in June 2012. Deen later withdrew the claim and received no money from State Farm.

Deen pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree theft, a felony, and filing a false claim, a misdemeanor, in Thurston County Superior Court.

State Farm referred the case to the Insurance Commissioner’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates criminal insurance fraud in Washington state. Read more about SIU’s work

Thursday, May 22, 2014

OIC has saved auto insurance consumers nearly $20 million since 2010

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner's rate decisions have saved auto insurance consumers nearly $20 million in premiums since 2010.

Personal auto insurers are required to file their proposed rates and rating plans with our office whenever there's a rate change. Our actuaries review the proposed rates, rating plans, and supporting documentation to be sure that the rates are not excessive, inadequate or discriminatory.

From 2010 through 2013, the rates we approved for the top 20 personal auto insurers in Washington saved consumers nearly $20 million in premiums.
  • 2013: $8.9 million
  • 2012: $5.6 million
  • 2011: $2.7 million
  • 2010: $2.7 million
Read more about auto insurance in Washington state.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

OIC hiring position to ensure health plans offer adequate networks

We have a second position open for a Functional Program Analyst 3 position to work in our Tumwater headquarters. This position differs a little from the position we announced last week.

This person in this position will review all health care and disability insurance plan agreements to make sure they meet our new network adequacy rule, which takes effect on May 26. Under the new rule, all health plans must:
  • Have an adequate number of medical providers and facilities to support delivery of and access to covered services without unreasonable delay.
  • Provide access to care in a timely manner and within reasonable proximity.
  • Ensure that medical providers who serve predominately low-income, medically underserved individuals (called, Essential Community Providers) are included, based on the needs of the population served.
Health plans in recent years have narrowed their medical provider networks as a way to lower health plan costs. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has stated often that he supports health plans' efforts to keep down costs for consumers, but that cannot come at the expense of consumers' access to health care.

This position requires a bachelor's degree and two years' experience working with the insurance industry or regulation of the insurance industry, and with contracts and databases.

We will start reviewing applications on May 19. Read more about the position, including how to apply, on

Monday, May 12, 2014

OIC employees earn awards for their work

Two OIC employees will be honored for their work on behalf of Washington state.
Rebuilding OIC's financial examination program has earned Patrick McNaughton a 2014 Governor’s Award for Leadership in Management.
McNaughton is the chief financial examiner, based in our Seattle office. He manages 23 credentialed examiners who are responsible for auditing 45 domestic insurance companies, 90 charitable annuity issuers, and certain public entities, such as the state Health Care Authority. 

 “Pat was instrumental in rebuilding our financial examination program,” said Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “Financial exams are conducted to ensure insurance companies in Washington honor the promises they make. The impact of a well-regulated insurance industry cannot be overstated in terms of our state’s economy. Washington’s $28 billion insurance industry impacts virtually every adult, family, and business in the state and provides about $500 million annually for the general fund.”
McNaughton’s work enabled the OIC to regain accreditation by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and helped create a new system of risk-focused financial analysis and examination. 

McNaughton will join other award recipients at a luncheon with Gov. Jay Inslee on June 3. 
Detective Bennie Hamilton in our Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received the 2014 Community Relations/Partnership Award from the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). The Olympic Mountain Chapter of ASIS recognized Hamilton due to his outreach and partnership development with scores of insurance companies, other private companies and public sector agencies that combat fraud. Due to these efforts, Hamilton has successfully worked hundreds of criminal insurance fraud cases resulting in numerous convictions for theft, attempted theft, filing false insurance claims, forgery, perjury and other offenses. Hamilton is a 35-year law enforcement veteran in Washington state, serving the past seven years with SIU.

“Bennie’s work has made a difference to Washington consumers,” said Kreidler. “It is fitting that Bennie received this award during Public Service Recognition Week, because the work he and his colleagues do every day is worthy of recognition. This award also embodies the nature of the work we do through SIU, which relies on partnership and collaboration with law enforcement, other governments and insurance companies to combat fraud and protect consumers in Washington state.”

SIU identifies and investigates for prosecution criminal organizations and individuals engaged in fraud schemes that target the insurance industry. Partnerships with insurance industry professionals and a variety of private and public sector entities and individuals are critical for success in combating fraud while protecting consumers.

Friday, May 9, 2014

OIC is hiring analyst to review health plan filings

We are hiring a Functional Program Analyst 3 in our Tumwater office to review health insurance policy forms to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and requirements. This position plays an important role in making sure health plans meet Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other requirements and working closely with the insurance companies that file their plans with our office each year. This position works with other health policy analysts in the agency and our legal division.

This position works in our Rates and Forms division and reports to the Health and Disability Manager, which we are also hiring.

We are looking for candidates who have a bachelor's degree and at least two years' experience in government regulation, insurance, insurance code, or experience with the ACA. We will start reviewing applications on May 19.

Read more about the position or apply at

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Climate change taken seriously by government, insurers

Doubters of the science on climate change and its effects on the nation and in the Pacific Northwest should be chastened by the third U.S. National Climate Assessment that the White House released this week.

It’s noted as the most comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change and its effects. Changes in snowmelt, more wildfires, rising sea levels and more findings are included in the assessment about the Northwest. The news is sobering.

But as Gov. Jay Inslee notes, efforts are being made in Washington to mitigate climate change -- reducing carbon emissions, investing in renewable energy, boosting fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and constructing buildings that use less power, among other things.

The insurance industry long ago determined that climate change is real, as noted most recently in the 2013 climate risk survey of over 1,000 insurers in Washington, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and New York.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler is chair of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners working group on Climate Change and Global Warming. This group regularly reviews how climate change affects insurers and the way they do business.

While Commissioner Kreidler maintains a continuing focus on reforms to the nation’s health care system, he’s also been a longtime advocate of protecting the environment for future generations. Insurance has a role, as he mentions in an article he wrote for the United Nations.

Read more about Commissioner Kreidler's work with climate change.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ride-sharing businesses cause confusion among consumers, drivers

Ride-sharing through Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), including Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, are causing a stir nationwide from an insurance perspective. These services are available to consumers through a smartphone app and allow drivers in certain cities to use their personal vehicles to give people rides, like a taxi.

A handful of states have issued consumer notices about these companies, including California, Hawaii, Ohio and, most recently, Connecticut. The debate revolves around when drivers and passengers are covered in a collision. Most personal auto policies have an exclusion for “livery,” which means times when drivers are being paid to transport people. In that case, the drivers would need a supplemental policy to cover the commercial use of their vehicles.

Today, a TNC called Lyft announced it is partnering with MetLife insurance to “develop insurance solutions that further protect Lyft’s drivers and passengers when utilizing this new sharing economy platform.” However, that’s about all the information that appears to be available at this time.

The TNCs advertise their own liability policies for drivers. Here’s an example from Lyft: “The Lyft platform now provides drivers with excess liability insurance up to $1,000,000 per occurrence.” Uber seems to offer a similar policy. Sidecar offers a little more information on its site, including a disclaimer that its $1 million policy “is liability only and does not provide coverage for collision, comprehensive, or wear and tear damage to a driver’s vehicle.”

Lyft is available in Seattle and recently announced it is expanding into Spokane. Uber is available in Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane. Sidecar is available only in Seattle. 

This issue is sure to stick around as more consumers start using ride-sharing services. The Seattle City Council is currently considering how to regulate TNCs. You can read about one Seattle blogger’s experience with Lyft when he was involved in a collision.

If you have a problem with an insurance company, you can contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or online.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unlicensed jewelry service contract company makes things right with OIC

Zale Delaware Inc., a company connected to Zales Jewelers, Gordon Jewelers and Piercing Pagoda, and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner recently agreed that Zale would pay $300,000 fine and more than $290,000 in unpaid premium taxes for unauthorized sales of service contracts for jewelry repairs. Companies pay a 2 percent premium tax on all service contracts, which is deposited into the state’s general fund. All disciplinary fines are also deposited into the state’s general fund.

Zale sold more than 425,000 jewelry service contracts worth $14.5 million to Washington consumers from 1999-2013 without being licensed. Washington state law requires that all service contract providers be registered with the Insurance Commissioner; the law took effect in 1999 as a way to protect consumers. Zale self-reported to our office that it was selling the contracts without being licensed, and it agreed to suspend further sales until it could comply with state law.

Like insurance companies, companies that sell service contracts assume a certain level of risk and it’s our job to make sure they are able to provide consumers the service they paid for when they purchase the contract.

Noteworthy in this case is that the company approached our office in order to comply with state law. Often, we find out about unlicensed service contract sales from consumer complaints. It is unusual for a company to approach us in the interest of following the law. Zale agreed to pay the fine and the premium tax within 30 days.

Before you buy a service contract, you can make sure the company is licensed to sell contracts in Washington.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Health insurers' proposed 2015 rates due today

Today is the deadline for all health insurance plans that are sold in Washington to be filed with our office. All health insurers must file their individual and small group health plans and rates for plans sold both inside and outside the Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. The review process will likely continue through the summer.

The rates will be available to the public 10 days after the filing is determined to be complete by our office – most likely on May 10. Consumers can sign up to receive an email when the rates are posted on our website. You can select one just company or all of them. If you sign up before May 10, you will receive an email alert once the new proposed rates are posted. And you’ll get an email once we’ve made our decision.

We also have information about how rates are reviewed and frequently asked questions.