Friday, October 31, 2014

Seattle area warned about landslide risk

Today, the Seattle Times published a warning about the risk of landslides due to recent heavy rains: Heavy rains bring increased risk of landslides, SPU warns. "With rain late Thursday and Friday morning, Seattle exceeded the official U.S. Geological Survey’s landslide threshold."

In addition to taking the steps outlined in the article, homeowners should take a look at the insurance policies. Homeowner policies typically do not cover damage caused by land movement or a landslide if the underlying case is excessive water.

There are options for homeowners who wish to have coverage in the event of a landslide. Consumers can purchase a rider that covers the contents of their home from all perils, including landslides. Some companies also sell earth-movement coverage for any structures on your property. Flood insurance may cover landslide damage that is due to heavy rains. Your insurance agent or broker can tell you what type of coverage is best for your situation.

Read more about flood insurance on our website. If you have questions, contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Insurance tips for consumers affected by Longview tornado

Yesterday, people in the Longview area experienced a tornado, a rare occurrence in Washington state. Luckily, there are no reports of injuries but there was some property damage to buildings and vehicles, according to news reports. Read more about the tornado in The Columbian newspaper.
Photo courtesy
Standard homeowner and commercial property policies typically cover damage caused by tornados or wind. Damage from tornados can damage building exteriors and roofs, which can leave them susceptible to water damage from rain, and can cause trees to fall on buildings and cars. Personal auto and commercial auto policies would need to have comprehensive coverage in order pay for damage caused by wind.  

If you experienced any damage from yesterday’s tornado, contact your agent or broker to discuss what coverage you actually have and to get your claim started. If you have questions, you can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Insurers largely unprepared for climate change

A report issued today found only 9 percent of insurers are well prepared to face the risks posed by a changing climate. Only two of those insurers are headquartered in the United States.  
Ceres today released its 2014 climate preparedness scorecard, which ranks the nation's 330 largest insurance companies on what they are saying and doing to respond to escalating climate risks. The report is based on a 2013 survey of insurers with an excess of $100 million in direct written premiums conducted by insurance regulators in Washington, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and New York.
More results:
  • 276 of the 330 companies that responded scored in in the bottom half.
  • The top nine best-prepared companies are: ACE, Munich Re, Swiss Re, Allianz, Prudential, XL Group, The Hartford, Sompo Japan and Zurich. Only The Hartford and Prudential are headquartered in the United States.
  • Overall, property and casualty (P&C) insurers are better prepared than life and health insurers, which are largely unprepared.
Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and the other insurance regulators care about this issue for a couple of reasons – first, climate change brings extreme weather events, which can cause widespread damage to homes and other property, as we saw during this summer's wildfires. More frequent and more severe natural disasters mean more claims, which means insurance companies need to make sure they have enough money to pay those claims. Insurers can help maintain their financial solvency by making sure their money is invested soundly and in climate-friendly ways. Secondly, insurance companies can reduce their risk by being proactive. Kreidler has called for insurers to get involved in building codes, land use practices and working with developers to help mitigate the effects of climate change.
“The insurance industry is uniquely positioned as the bearer of risk to make adjustments now to lessen dramatic impacts we know are coming. This is not a partisan issue, it’s a financial solvency issue and a consumer protection issue,” Kreidler said in the Ceres news release.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Consumer alert: Trade marketers banned from selling health care products

The federal government this week banned a trade association from selling health care-related products to consumers. The OIC issued a cease-and-desist order against the same group in 2012 for selling discount health plans in Washington without a license.

The Federal Trade Commission banned the Independent Association of Businesses (IAB) from selling any products that could be construed as health insurance or health care products to consumers. The group marketed its products as health insurance but consumers who purchased it were in fact enrolled in an IAB membership that included discounts on many services, including travel protection, identity theft protection and certain medical visits that were subject to broad exclusions and limitations.

IAB indicated to our investigators that it had sold 190 memberships to 161 Washington consumers as of September 2010 and it was still doing business at the time of our order in February 2012, even though it knew it wasn’t legal to do so. Consumers should be wary if they see marketing from IAB or any of its affiliated business names: International Association of Benefits, International Marketing Agency, Independent Association of Businesses, or IAB. You can report any activity from this marketer to the FTC’s online complaint center. If you have questions about health insurance, call our consumer experts at 1-800-562-6900 or visit us online.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Change your Medicare enrollment now through Dec. 7

Medicare’s open enrollment period for prescription drug plans (Part D) and Medicare Advantage plans starts today and runs through Dec. 7. Our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) provide help in your community.

SHIBA offers free help to people with Medicare questions, including what changes are happening this year.

“Our unbiased volunteers in your community can answer your questions and help you search for plans online,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Before you make your Medicare decision, consider the following:
  • Plan costs and coverage will likely change every year, so carefully review all letters and notices from your insurer.
  • Make a list of all current prescription drugs you take, the doses, and how often. Then, use the Medicare Plan Finder to compare prescription drug (Part D) plans.
  • Review the 2015 Medicare & You handbook. You should receive it in the mail by mid-October.
  • If you have limited income and need help paying for prescription drugs, check out Medicare’s “Extra Help” program. To see if you qualify, contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or visit
Call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-562-6900 to ask for help or to schedule an appointment with a SHIBA volunteer in your area. You can also find a free Medicare workshop in your area on our online calendar and sign up to receive Medicare consumer news from us by email or text.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We are back in business!

All of our web-based applications are available again and we are able to respond to emails now. Thank you for your patience!

Web-based applications, email are down

A state-level technical glitch is causing OIC's web-based applications to be down for the time being. OIC staff email and Internet access are also down, so please be patient if you are trying to reach us electronically. We do not yet have an estimate of when our services will be restored and we appreciate our users' patience.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Even if you think you know what your policy covers, read it again

We've said this before and we will keep saying this ... you must read your policies, the sooner after you purchase them the better.

We receive calls daily from frustrated and often distraught consumers because they are having a problem with their coverage, premiums or outcomes of their claims because they thought they had a certain type of coverage that they did not actually have.

We can't overemphasize the importance of this sentence: When you sign up for coverage of any kind, be sure to check the policy when you receive it! This is your responsibility as a policyholder. Read it, look at the coverage and prices, and ask your agent or insurance company any questions immediately before you have a claim or policy payment issue. It’s much easier to make a correction early in the process rather than after you have a claim and things aren’t correct.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

OIC orders Fife RV & Auto Center to stop selling warranties

OIC has ordered Fife RV & Auto Center to stop selling vehicle protection product warranties effective immediately. The company has been selling a warranty to repair any surface damage on the interior and exterior of vehicles. Since 2012, the company has sold 236 warranties to Washington consumers without being authorized to do so.    

Warranties are considered insurance under Washington state law and businesses must be authorized to sell them in Washington state.

The company has a right to demand a hearing and it must honor the terms of all warranties it sold to Washington consumers. Read more about warranties and service contracts sold in Washington.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly or have questions about insurance in Washington state, contact our consumer advocates online or by phone at 1-800-562-6900.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Consumers ask, why is my repair taking so long?

Our consumer advocates receive many calls from consumers wondering why repair work gets delayed, whether it be an auto repair or home repair that is being covered by insurance. 

Generally, if you are using the insurer’s recommended auto repair shop, building contractor, cleaning service, or any other vendor, you should expect the insurer will monitor the progress of the repair and and that you will not be responsible for any added expenses due to repair delays. We do, however, expect the insurer will communicate with your repair shop and contractors in a timely manner to be able to come to an agreed price of and timeline for a repair.

If you decide to use your own repair shop, building contractor, cleaning service, or any other vendor that is not one recommended by your insurance, it is your responsibility to monitor the repair progress and monitor the vendor. Delays created by your shop or contractor and any added expenses or inconvenience created by those delays are not the responsibility of the insurer. In those cases, the insurer will expect you to pay for extra car rental days or alternate living arrangements if a delay is caused.

If you are working with an electrician, plumber, elevator mechanic or manufactured home installer, you should protect yourself by verifying they are licensed with the state Department of Labor and Industries.

In any event, it is always a good idea for you to take an active role in the claims process--do not expect that everything will be done automatically by the insurer or the business that is doing the repair work. Being involved in a claim by its very nature is unpleasant, but you can help lessen frustration by asking questions and keeping track of the progress of your repair.
If you have questions, you can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Scientists predict another St. Helens eruption; make sure you are covered!

Mount St. Helens, Washington’s most active volcano, is showing signs of reawakening, according to scientists, who say it’s only a matter of time until it erupts again. An eruption started 10 years ago that lasted until 2008, outlined in The Columbian newspaper. The lava dome has since rebuilt and the U.S. Geological Survey is seeing signs of magma activity under the volcano, according to the Associated Press

The good news is that most homeowner and auto policies will cover some degree of damage due to volcanic eruptions, but there are, of course, exceptions. The key is evaluating your home and auto policies and talking to your insurance agent before an eruption occurs.

Read more about volcano coverage for your home and auto. If you have questions or complaints about your insurance, contact our consumer advocates online or by phone at 1-800-562-6900.