Friday, January 9, 2015

National insurance watchdog finds OIC meets, exceeds accreditation standards

The OIC has retained its accreditation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Every five years, the NAIC conducts a rigorous, in-depth review by an outside team of experts to ensure the OIC meets or exceeds nationwide financial solvency policies and standards in its regulatory oversight of insurance companies that do business in Washington state. It also allows insurance companies to expect consistent regulation in all accredited states.

The OIC’s most recent review resulted in no findings and a recommendation for full reaccreditation for another five years. The efforts of the OIC, led by Commissioner Kreidler, in fulfilling its mission in this area give assurance to Washington consumers that the companies they do business with are financially sound and fully complying with all required rules and regulations.

This OIC has maintained its NAIC reaccreditation for the past 15 years under Commissioner Kreidler. Our next review is in 2019.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Flood information for Washington consumers hit by weekend storms

Some areas of the state were flooded by the heavy rains over the weekend. Here's a refresher about  floods and insurance:
  • Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood damage is not on standard homeowner policies and most commercial policies, although many people assume it is. That can be a costly assumption. Your mortgage lender may require you to have flood insurance if your home is located in a flood-prone area, also known as a "special flood hazard area." You can estimate your property's flood risk online.
  • Most people buy flood insurance through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These policies are sold through local insurance agents and brokers, which you can locate online. As with most policies, there are limits to what is covered.
  • If your vehicle is damaged in a flood, your auto policy’s comprehensive coverage typically will cover it. However, you should verify you have that type of coverage with your insurance agent or broker. Read more about auto insurance.
Read more about flood insurance and damage caused by winter weather on OIC’s website.

Are you prepared for 2015? Start the new year by reviewing your policies

The start of a new year is a great time to review your insurance policies. Did you have a baby? Get married? Buy a new home or car? If so, you'll want to check whether you have the right protection.

Take some time to talk with your agent, broker or company and review your policies and see if they meet your needs. Your agent or company can help determine whether your current policies provide adequate coverage or if you might need more or less. Even if you haven't experienced a life-changing event, you could be eligible for discounts or new insurance products may better serve your needs.

Life insurance
Changes—such as a birth, divorce, remarriage or even a new mortgage or new job—are indicators that you might need to make changes to your life insurance policy.

Read your policy carefully and answer these questions:
  • Do premiums or benefits vary from year to year?
  • How much do the benefits build up in the policy?
  • What part of the premiums or benefits is not guaranteed?
  • What is the effect of interest on money paid and received at different times on the policy?
  • In what situations and through what procedures can you assess cash values?
  • Can the policy be converted into another form of insurance or annuity?
If you had a child or got married, you might want to consider increasing your death benefit. Check with your agent to see if your insurance company requires a physical exam before increasing your coverage. Alternatively, events like paying off your mortgage, retirement or children finishing college might mean that you can lower your life insurance coverage and premiums. Ask your insurance agent or company about your options.

Read more about life insurance.

Homeowner or renter insurance
This is a great time to update your home inventory and make sure your homeowner or rental policy is up-to-date.
  • Take photos or video of your prized possessions. Remember to note any antique items and their value so you can talk with your insurance agent or company to ensure they are adequately covered. 
  • Add any new gifts to your home inventory. Include as many details as you can and take a photo of each item.
  • Most basic home insurance policies have standard limits for big-ticket items like electronics, art, jewelry or sporting equipment. You may need special coverage, so call your agent to discuss changes for your policy.

Also, consider your environment. Your home could be located in an area prone to flooding or earthquakes. These disasters can be costly, and may not be covered under a standard policy. Speak to your agent about possibly adding coverage for these perils.

Read more about home insurance.

Auto insurance
Here are the basics of auto insurance:
  • Liability is the part of the policy that pays for any injury or damage if you cause an accident. If your liability insurance is too low, it is possible that you could be sued for any damages above your liability limits.
  • Review your deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverage. This is the amount you will pay if your car is damaged or totaled without fault of another driver. Raising or lowering this amount can affect your premium.
  • Before hitting the road, make sure you have a copy of your insurance card and your insurance agent or company's number in your vehicle.
Read more about auto insurance.

Health insurance
You may have recently enrolled or changed your health insurance whether through your employer, Medicare or our state’s exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. Make sure you have your insurance cards. Before you visit a doctor, verify that your paperwork is in order.

Check your provider lists to make sure visits to your doctor and any specialists are still covered by your policy, as in-network or preferred provider lists change each year. Read your documents and make note of copayments for in-network and out-of-network providers so you are not surprised later.

If you're planning a vacation away from home, check with your insurance carrier to identify urgent care centers and hospitals that accept your insurance coverage near your destination and along the way. Ask your insurance plan about applicable co-pays and deductibles if care is needed.

Read more about health insurance.

Be fraud wise
Insurance fraud can happen to anyone, anywhere. Protect by following these tips:
  • Don't give out any personal information—including your social security number or bank information—over the phone until you have verified the legitimacy of the insurance company and agent with your state insurance department.
  • Ask for copies of everything you sign and keep a copy of the payment receipt or check for the initial premium payment you gave the agent for the policy.
  • Call the insurance company if you don't receive a copy of the insurance policy outlining your coverage and its limitations within 30 days of your purchase.
  • The best way to protect yourself from insurance fraud is to research the agent and company you're considering. Before signing the contract or paying for the policy, verify they are licensed to sell insurance in Washington.
  • You can search our disciplinary orders or file a complaint against an insurance company, agent or broker with the OIC. 
  • You can also reported suspected insurance fraud to the OIC.

Have questions?
We are here to help! If you have questions, you can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why did my insurance rates change when I moved to Washington?

We get this question quite a bit from consumers about their insurance rates for auto, home, boats, RVs and any other type of property insurance. Each insurer has its own rates, and their rates can differ not only state by state, but within a state as well.

Insurers rates' must cover the cost of doing business and the number of claims they pay in various regions. Insurers typically use what are called rating territories. Each rating territory can have a different rate associated with it. Learn more about how insurers set rates.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.