Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What should I know about title insurance?

Buying your home is likely one of the largest investments you'll make and a decision that can affect your finances for years to come. The OIC and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offer information for consumers about title insurance, a topic that is unclear to many people.

What is title insurance?
When purchasing real estate, your lender will likely require you to purchase title insurance.

Title insurance covers you if title problems come up based upon claims prior to when you purchased or refinanced a property. For example, let’s say there is an unpaid mortgage on the property you just bought. Without title insurance, you might have to pay legal costs to settle a dispute. If you lose a dispute, it could cost you money, the equity you have in your home and perhaps even ownership. Title insurance would pay legal costs to settle the dispute and/or to resolve the problem.

Where can I buy title insurance?
You can buy title insurance from a title insurance company or a title agent who sells title insurance. Title insurance companies and agents must be licensed by the OIC to sell title insurance in Washington state.

Many consumers aren’t aware of title insurance until they sign their closing paperwork. You are not required to use the suggested title company or closing agent. You have the right to shop for and choose your provider of title insurance and settlement services.

You'll need to know the purchase price of the property you are buying to make price comparisons on title services. You can search for licensed title companies and make a list of questions to ask title insurers before you sign a contract. Be sure to ask what services and fees are included in the title premium, any separate fees and whether you qualify for any discounts.

Some title insurers may be affiliated with lenders, real estate companies, developers or home builders. Ask the person making the referral if their company is affiliated with the recommended title agent and what they are receiving or not receiving for referring you to the title agent. Federal law requires affiliated relationships to be disclosed in writing.

Read more about choosing and buying title insurance.

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

Do you get health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder? Payment changes start Sept. 24

Starting Sept. 24, 2015, if you buy an individual or family health plan through Washington Healthplanfinder, you must pay your premium directly to your health insurer or dental insurer. Any financial help – such as tax credits or cost-sharing reductions you’re receiving – won’t be affected by this change.

Washington Healthplanfinder will continue to accept premium payments until 4:59 p.m. on Sept. 23 for coverage for the month of October. As for future monthly payments, deadlines may vary by insurance company.

Tips for an easy transition

  • Pay your insurance company directly by Sept. 23 at 4:59 p.m. for your October coverage.
  • Look for information in early October from your insurance company about your November premium payment deadline.
  • If you have health and dental insurance provided by two different companies, remember to make a payment to each insurance company.

Already pay your insurer directly?

If you’re already paying your insurance company directly, you can keep doing so. If you have auto-pay set up through Washington Healthplanfinder, follow these steps before Sept. 24 to cancel it:

1. Sign in to your Washington Healthplanfinder account at
2. Click the “Billing &Payments” tab from your account dashboard
3. Select “Edit/Cancel Auto Pay”
4. Select “Delete payment method”

Remember: After canceling auto pay with Washington Healthplanfinder, be sure to set up your premium payment with your insurance company right away! Contact your insurance company to see what payment methods they offer.

If you have auto pay or automatic funds transfer set up through your bank, you’ll need to contact your bank to redirect your monthly payments to your insurance company before Sept. 24, 2015.

For more information

Insurance Commissioner prevails in conviction appeal

Andre Zamora

A man convicted of insurance fraud lost a recent appeal to overturn the conviction.

Andre Zamora-Sarmiento (Zamora) was convicted of one count of felony insurance fraud in July 2014 after attempting to bilk an insurance company of more than $13,000 by altering medical bills that he submitted for reimbursement. Read our news release about his conviction.

In November 2011, Zamora was involved in a car collision in Tacoma. After the collision, Zamora sought medical attention at a Renton hospital emergency room and later sought a second opinion from a Bellevue hospital. Zamora then submitted falsified medical bills to USAA insurance company for reimbursement. He submitted three false claims to USAA totaling more than $14,857; the actual amount of the three claims totaled $1,621.

The insurance company paid Zamora's first two claims, netting him $4,200 more than the actual cost of the bills. He submitted a third claim that was inflated by $9,000. The company sought documentation, which Zamora refused to provide. He also refused to provide authorization for the company to contact the hospital directly for a copy of the bill. The insurance company declined the bill and referred the case to the Insurance Commissioner’s Special Investigations Unit.

The appeal hinged on a legal technicality about the number of offenses versus the number of charges. In this case, attorneys used multiple examples of falsified bills Zamora submitted to prove one act of insurance fraud. There’s also an argument about the technicality of the instructions the prosecutor gave the jury. The appellate court found the state prosecutor did not err and upheld the conviction.

Zamora was sentenced in July 2014 two months in jail with work release and credit for 14 days served, and to pay restitution of more than $7,100.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Affordable Care Act helps lower state uninsured rate to lowest since 1987

The latest figures from a highly respected national research organization support what backers of the Affordable Care Act said all along – expanding health care coverage would lower the rate of uninsured in the nation and in Washington state.

Two reports came out this week, both from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The first, the Current Population Survey, showed the percentage of uninsured in Washington dropped 317,000 in 2014. This survey reported that roughly 643,000 state residents remained without coverage.

That represents a decline in the overall percentage of uninsured residents from 14 percent in 2013 to 9.2 percent in 2014. And the 2014 figure is even better than the 16 percent of residents without coverage in 2012, according to the Census Bureau.

A second report, the American Community Survey, showed pretty much the same numbers as the Current Population Survey.

The American Community Survey is considered the gold standard among such data reporting because it delves into more detail about health insurance coverage.

Both reports show the lowest rate of uninsured state residents since the Census Bureau began its tracking in 1987.

Much of the success, according to the reports, is due to Washington’s expansion of Medicaid, the health care program that serves lower-income residents, called Apple Health in our state.

Washington was among the 28 states that expanded Medicaid when given the opportunity. The latest reports show that states that took this option have achieved greater success in lowering the rate of uninsured compared to those that rejected expansion.

Nationally, about 9 million citizens have gained coverage since the Affordable Care Act took effect.

The latest figures also match closely with what the Office of the Insurance Commissioner has reported on regarding the uninsured in Washington. An updated report by the OIC is due in November.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Small business fair offers free resources on Sept. 26

Learn from the experts how to form and run a successful business at the 19th annual Washington Small Business Fair on Sept. 26 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Renton Technical College, 3000 NE 4th Street, in Renton.

The OIC will have consumer experts on hand who can answer your questions about finding health insurance for individuals or small businesses, and other questions you may have about insurance issues. 

Here's what else you can expect at the Small Business Fair:
  • Attend seminars that cover important, up-to-date topics for all stages of business ownership. Savvy business experts share their knowledge and real-life experiences with you. 
  • Connect with 30 federal, state and local government agencies, and business and trade associations to get the information you need. 
The fair is free, with plenty of free parking and no advance registration. For more information, visit or find the fair on Facebook at

Friday, September 4, 2015

Are you protected against flood damage?

Floods are the most common natural disaster that Washington residents face, and are a threat to life, property and public services. This year, waters in the Eastern Pacific are experiencing what promises to be the strongest El Niño recorded. While the actual effect El Niño will have on weather here in the Northwest is hard to predict, there is a potential for more precipitation. In Eastern Washington, where fires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres, there will be an increased risk of flooding, landslides, and mudslides due to increased run-off after even moderate rains. 

Despite that, most Washington consumers are not protected--standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and offers protection against flood hazards for homeowners, business owners, condo owners and renters. The average residential flood claim exceeds $39,000, while the average flood insurance policy premium is $700 per year.

You don’t have to be in a flood hazard zone to be affected by a flood. People outside of mapped flood-risk areas file 20 percent of all flood insurance claims. See Myths and Facts about the NFIP. Another benefit of purchasing flood insurance is that a policy holder may file a claim regardless of the declaration of a disaster. Check to see if your community participates in NFIP.

Typically, there is a 30-day waiting period before your flood insurance policy takes effect. Here is information on how to find an agent near you who sells flood insurance policies.

The Insurance Commissioner’s website has information for consumers about floods and homeowner’s insurance, including things you should talk to your insurance agent about and tips for protecting your home and belongings. We also have tips for filing a claim after a natural disaster and how to find disaster resources.

The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division provides a number of tools and guides to help you prepare:
Flooding may be extensive this fall and winter. Here are some tips for preparing for the risk of flooding and mudslides: 
Consumers can seek help with their insurance or ask insurance-related questions by calling our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or contacting us online.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Consumer alert: If your insurance cancels your policy, you may have a hard time finding new coverage for a while

We recently received a call from a consumer who had paid the most recent homeowner insurance premium online, but the insurance company canceled the policy. When the consumer called the insurer to sort it out, the insurer said they are not issuing any policies because of the wildfires around the state.

The consumer called us, and we are working with the company to make sure the consumer has the coverage they paid for.

It is not uncommon for property insurers – they insure cars, buildings, homes, property and renters’ contents – to suspend issuing new policies during a natural disaster. President Obama issued an emergency declaration for Washington on Aug. 21. As of today, more than 920,000 acres have burned in our state.

This scenario underscores the need to be vigilant about the information your insurance sends you. Insurers are required to tell you in writing if they are canceling your policy for any reason, including nonpayment. Many homeowners don’t think about their insurance payments because they are rolled into your mortgage payment. If you have multiples insurance policies with the same company, it’s common for all of your premiums to be paid at the same time. For example, if you insure two cars and an RV through the same company, you probably pay for all three at once.

If your insurance company contacts you by mail, phone or email, you should carefully read what they send you. If you are unsure about the standing of your policies, contact your insurance company, agent or broker.

If you can't find homeowner insurance, ask your agent to get a quote through the Washington Washington FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan. It provides basic property insurance up to $1.5 million to people who can't get coverage.

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.