Thursday, December 27, 2018

Update: Flood insurance may be available during federal government shutdown

Update: We are seeing reports that NFIP will sell flood policies during the federal government shutdown, a reversal of its earlier announcement. While the FEMA website still says otherwise (see below), we've seen reports that NFIP is selling through its Write Your Own (WYO) partners, which are available from licensed agents and brokers.

Here's our original blog post:

During the federal government shutdown that started Dec. 21, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will not sell new flood insurance policies. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) website:

“Policies that were in force before midnight on December 21, 2018 remain in force. The NFIP will process and pay claims under those policies as usual from the National Flood Insurance Fund and the National Flood Insurance Reserve Fund until depleting these funds, but will not have authority to borrow any additional funds from the U.S. Treasury. Existing flood insurance policies remain valid regardless of FEMA’s capacity to pay claims. FEMA and Congress have never failed to honor the NFIP’s contracts with policyholders.

The NFIP and its WYO partners (Write Your Own -- read more about what that means) may not issue new contracts for flood insurance during a lapse in authority unless Congress passes legislation reauthorizing the NFIP. During a lapse in authority, the NFIP will have limited ability to issue new policies, issue increased coverage on existing policies, or issue renewal policies.”

What does this mean for homeowners?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, Washington state had approximately 36,831 flood insurance policies through the NFIP as of 2017, the most recent data available.

Some mortgage lenders require homeowners to have flood insurance before they can close on the sale of a house. According to Reuters, it could affect up to 40,000 home sales each month.

While federal flood insurance policies are temporarily unavailable, there may be some flood policies available on the private flood insurance market. The best way to find out is to contact your insurance agent or company to ask if they can help you find private flood insurance.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler supports the development of a private flood insurance market, which would give homeowners and business owners more options and coverage choices for insuring their property. That could be one of the focus areas that would be included in a Washington state disaster resilience working group if Kreidler’s bill passes the state Legislature next year.

If you need help with an insurance problem or question, contact our consumer advocates.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Thinking about buying a condo? Here’s what you should know about insuring it

We talk to consumers a lot about homeowner and renter insurance, but condos are a type of housing that have unique insurance considerations.

The number of condos being built is on the rise in the Seattle area – more than 2,000 are slated to be built in Seattle and Bellevue through 2021. 

If the condo association owns the structure and common areas, it typically carries an insurance policy to cover damage to those areas and liability arising from those areas. The association policy may have a deductible that gets passed onto the unit owners, typically in the form of an assessment. It’s common that individual owners have little say with regard to how repairs are done, including the timeliness, quality and type – those decisions are typically made by the association.

Each unit owner should purchase their own policy that covers their contents and the space they own, sometimes defined in the policy as from “sheet rock in” or “paint in.” Unit owners can check with their agent or insurer to find out if there is coverage for the association’s deductible assessment under the unit policy.

The most common type of inquiry we receive from consumers involves claims where water damage to one condo unit affects another unit. Unless there is clear negligence on the part of the owner whose leak caused the damage, each individual condo unit policy pays for the damage to their own unit.

Questions? Contact your agent or insurance company. You can learn more about condo insurance. You can also contact consumer advocates online or by phone at 1-800-562-6900.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Avoid being the victim of package theft

December is the season for shopping for gifts, which means it’s also prime Grinch season for car break-ins and thefts.

Theft from a house

Packages left on porches by delivery services, and pre-wrapped presents under the tree, are vulnerable for theft, and proving the value and ownership might be a challenge. According to Property Casualty 360, 26 million Americans have had a holiday package stolen from a front porch or doorstep.

Talk to your agent about this type of theft and what you would need to prove you had your property stolen from your porch, driveway, mailbox, or house. Most insurers require a police report to accompany theft claims.

A couple of things to consider to try to avoid theft:
  • Have your package delivered to a friend or family member who is home during the day. 
  • Ask the vendor if they can deliver to a secure location. For example, Amazon can delivery packages to Amazon lockers. 
  • Consider installing security cameras. They are widely available and have become more affordable as the technology improves. Some insurers offer a discount on homeowner policies if you have a security system – talk to your agent or broker about that. 

Car break-ins

If you find yourself the victim of a car break-in when you have a car full of gifts, your homeowner or renter insurance will cover the contents, but there could be dollar limits on certain types of property. Talk to your agent about any policy limits that may apply to certain types of personal property.

If you decide to file a claim – for instance, if your car was damaged during the theft -- make sure you have receipts for what was stolen and a copy of the police report, if you filed one. However, you should consider whether your claim amount is more or less than your deductible. If it’s less, not only will you pay more than the value of the goods, but you may not want to run the risk of your insurance rates going up as a result of the claim.

It’s best not to store packages or valuables in your car. If you need to, stash them away out of plain sight before you park. 

More info

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tips to avoid Medicare card scams

Medicare has been mailing new Medicare ID cards to Washington state beneficiaries since September and scammers are taking advantage of this opportunity to commit fraud.

The cards have a new look but, most importantly, they have unique numbers to replace the Social Security numbers previously used on the cards. Medicare created the new cards to reduce identity theft and fraud. 

Here’s what a scammers may say when calling Medicare beneficiaries (note: none of these is true!):
  • Ask for your bank account information so you can pay for your new Medicare card. 
  • Ask you to confirm or give your personal information to get your new card. 
  • Ask for your old Medicare number (which was your Social Security number) to prevent your Medicare coverage from being interrupted. 

Facts about the new Medicare cards

  • They are FREE! You do NOT pay for your new card and you don’t have to do anything to get it. Medicare will automatically mail your new card to you. You can sign up to get an email from Medicare to know when to expect your card in the mail. 
  • You do NOT need to give any personal information to get your new card. The cards are mailed to the address you have on file with Social Security. You can update your address online, call 1-800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office. 
  • Your Medicare coverage will NOT be interrupted or stopped because your new card’s being mailed to you. 
  • In general, Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask for your personal information, or to get your new Medicare Number and card. 

What to do if you get a call

If you receive a call or email that seems suspicious, do not share any information. Hang up and call our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) at 1-800-562-6900 to report the incident.

In addition to providing free, unbiased help with your Medicare options, SHIBA is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol project. We help clients prevent, detect and report Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Diabetes & health insurance: What you should know

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and there are a lot of reasons to be aware of this disease. Worldwide, 425 million adults have diabetes – that’s one in 11 people. Another 212 million people remain undiagnosed – or 1 in 2 people.

Health insurance subject to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicare are required to pay for diabetes screenings and other preventive services in full, without cost-sharing. If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, the ACA prevents insurance companies from denying you coverage based on having a pre-existing condition.

Washington state law goes further and requires health insurers to cover the following:
  • Insulin 
  • Syringes 
  • Injection aids 
  • Blood glucose monitors 
  • Test strips for blood glucose monitors 
  • Visual reading and urine test strips 
  • Insulin pumps and accessories to the pumps 
  • Insulin infusion devices 
  • Prescriptive oral agents for controlling blood sugar levels 
  • Foot care appliances for prevention of complications associated with diabetes 
  • Glucagon emergency kits
Find more information about diabetes:
If you believe you’ve been denied coverage for a preventive diabetes screening, diabetes treatment, or diabetic supplies, you can talk to an insurance expert or file a complaint.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Quitting smoking can improve your health insurance premiums

Today is the Great American Smokeout and now is a great time to stop smoking and using nicotine products to avoid the nicotine surcharge for your 2019 health insurance.

Health insurers are allowed to charge smokers 50 percent higher premiums than nonsmokers. That’s because smokers' health care costs tend to be higher than those of nonsmokers.  

To help you kick the habit, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover FDA-approved smoking cessation services such as counseling and medication as a preventive benefit, which means consumers have no out-of-pocket costs. 

Here are some tips from the Great American Smokeout for how to quit using tobacco products:
  • Quitting smoking isn’t easy. Have a plan for how you will live a smoke-free life.
  • You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. Start with day one.
  • How to quit smoking or using tobacco

There are immediate and long-term benefits to quitting smoking, beyond paying less for health care (and saving money you’ve been spending on cigarettes or nicotine products). 

Nearly 38 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths every year, about 1 in 5 deaths. And more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Beware of open enrollment scams

We are rapidly approaching 2019 open enrollment for Medicare (Oct. 15 – Dec. 7 and health insurance for individuals and families (Nov. 1 – Dec. 15). That also means we’re starting to see scammers try to trick consumers into buying illegal products.

An OIC employee recently received a phone call from an insurance agent who tried to sell her a health insurance policy. The agent—who isn’t licensed in Washington state—told the employee that if she provided the address of a friend or relative from out of state, he would sell her a policy using that address that would be covered under a “national plan.”

Here’s what’s wrong with in this scenario:
  • Consumers can’t buy an ACA-compliant health insurance plan outside of open enrollment unless they qualify for a special enrollment.
  • It’s not legal for agents and brokers to sell consumers a policy using someone else’s address. 
  • It’s not legal for agents and brokers to try to circumvent state insurance laws by selling a policy that’s valid in another state. 
  • It’s not legal to solicit or sell insurance in Washington state without a license. 
The agent is now the subject of a legal investigation.
If someone tries to sell you a health insurance plan outside of those dates, you are probably not getting the coverage you think you are. Here are some red flags to watch for:
  • NEVER give an agent any financial or payment information before you review the policy. 
  • If the agent refuses to give you any plan information in writing until you have signed up, “locked in,” “reserved a spot” or provided financial information. 
  • The agent may direct you to website to check your provider network. Before you sign the policy, contact your medical providers directly to ask if they accept the plan. 
For Medicare-related plans, it’s illegal for agents and brokers to initiate unsolicited door-to-door visits, phone calls, or emails to consumers.

Here’s where you can find more information:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This is a good time of year to think about flood insurance

It's early October, which for those of us in Western Washington means the rainy season is about to get started.

A North Carolina resident rescues a cat in the flooding
that resulted from Hurricane Florence.
Photo courtesy Associated Press
Most people do not have flood insurance. Washington state has 43,000 flood policies among individuals/homeowners. Western Washington isn't the only place where it's worth thinking about. Eastern Washington is also at risk for flood. Areas that have been struck by wildfires are subject to heavy water runoff due to the vegetation being gone. 

Consider North Carolina, which is currently recovering from Hurricane Florence. In a state with 10 million people, only 134,000 homes were covered by flood insurance. You can read more about what's happening there from Mike Causey, the insurance commissioner in that state.

Here are some facts you should know about flood insurance:
  • Your homeowner policy does not cover floods, or any loss due to flooding. That includes mudslides and land movement that were caused by water.
  • There's a 30-day waiting period for most new flood insurance policies to take effect.
  • Many policies are sold through the National Flood Insurance Program, but there can be policies available outside of the federal government. Your agent or broker can give you more information.
Read more about flood insurance on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or call 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

7 safe driving habits to adopt

Each time you take your focus off the road, you're putting your life and the lives of others at risk.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic fatalities increased by six percent from 2015 to 2016. Distracted driving, speeding, alcohol impairment and unrestrained passengers were the main culprits. 

Whether it's going to work, running errands or taking a road trip, for many, driving is a common daily activity. However, your car weighs more than 4,000 pounds, and a collision with a vehicle that is equal or heavier in size could be disastrous.

Safe-driving tips:
  • Maintain your vehicle. Get regular oil changes, and make sure your tires are properly inflated, you have plenty of gas and the lights work.
  • Buckle up. Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to save lives and reduce injuries after a crash.  
  • Use smart driving positions. Keep both hands on the steering wheel, and position them at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock, or 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, depending on the size and style of your steering wheel.
  • Maintain speed limits. Obey all speed limits and watch for hazardous road conditions.
  • Follow to the three-second rule. Leave three seconds of distance between your vehicle and the car in front of you. You need that space to react if something happens.
  • Map out your route. Taking your eyes of the road to program your route or look at a map can be a major distraction. Before you hit the road, plug in your destination and look at an overview of the route. 
  • Keep your eyes on the road. Distracted driving is dangerous and the cause of frequent, costly and often deadly accidents. It is also illegal in Washington state. Impaired driving, speeding and drowsy driving are also very dangerous. 

WreckCheck App for Smartphones 

Accidents happen. If one happens to you, take some of the guesswork out of a tense situation with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' WreckCheck™. This free app for iPhone and Android smartphones outlines what to do immediately following an accident and walks you through a step-by-step process to an accident report.

Don't have a smartphone? Download a printable accident checklist and other tips for staying calm, safe and smart on the road.

Need more info? 

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Keep yourself safe - avoid and report Medicare scams

With Medicare Open Enrollment just around the corner--Oct. 15 – Dec. 7--and new Medicare cards in the mail, be on the lookout for scam artists trying to get your personal information.

If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask for your personal  information, or to get your new Medicare Number and card.

If a scammer contacts you and asks for information or money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits, do not share any information. Hang up and call the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program at 1-800-562-6900.

In addition to providing free, unbiased help with your Medicare options, SHIBA is Washington state’s Senior Medicare Patrol project. We help clients prevent, detect and report Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Are fireworks banned where you live? Check your insurance policy before you light them

Before you celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, here are a few things to consider:

  • Some cities in Washington state have banned fireworks. If you live in one of those cities and cause a fire with fireworks, your homeowner or renter policy may not cover the loss. Talk to your agent or broker, or read your policy to be sure. 
  • Washington State Patrol has a list of cities that have banned fireworks for personal use, and a list of public fireworks displays. 
  • More fires are reported on the Fourth of July than any other day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • On average, 250 people go to the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around July 4, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC reports that in 2016, 11,000 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries.

Consumers can get help with their insurance or ask insurance-related questions by calling our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or contacting us online. We will be closed on July 4, but will re-open at 8 a.m. on July 5.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Skipping commercial insurance is a bad idea for ridesharing drivers

Driving your own vehicle for a ridesharing company—Uber and Lyft are the most well-known—has become a popular side gig. Some drivers are illegally using their personal auto policies to insure their vehicles.

Rideshare drivers are not covered by their personal auto insurance policies. They are required to have a commercial or rideshare-specific auto insurance policy to cover them while they are driving for profit. In recent years, insurance companies have created products to cover drivers during the different periods – waiting to be hailed, en route to pick up a passenger, and while driving a passenger. Some of those policies are commercial, some of them are hybrid products that are in addition to your personal auto insurance. In addition, Uber and Lyft offer their own coverage for liability for passengers and third parties in the case of a collision.

If you are a rideshare driver and file a claim with your personal, non-rideshare auto insurance company for a collision that happened while you were on the clock, you are breaking the law. There are scores of online forums and sites that give drivers tips on how to get away with insurance fraud. Here are some reasons why you should not do that:
  • When the insurance company finds something amiss—and they will, they spend millions of dollars a year rooting out fraud—they are legally required to refer you to our office to be criminally investigated. 
  • You could be charged with filing a false insurance claim, attempted theft or theft, to start. If you are convicted or plead guilty, you could have a felony on your record for the rest of your life. 
  • Your auto insurer will likely opt to not renew your auto policy. You may have a hard time finding an auto insurance policy after being charged with insurance fraud and if you do, it will certainly cost you more than you used to pay. 
Cutting corners on insurance might seem like a way to save on business costs. In the long run, you are much better off paying for insurance that covers your rideshare business than possibly facing criminal charges.

More information about ridesharing and insurance.

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Medicare card scams hit nationwide

Medicare started mailing new cards to beneficiaries in April and will finish mailing them nationwide in a year. In Washington state, beneficiaries will start receiving their replacement cards this July.

The cards have a new look but, most importantly, they have unique numbers to replace the Social Security numbers previously used on the cards. Medicare created the new cards to reduce identity theft and fraud.
New Medicare card design

Ironically, fraudsters are capitalizing on the change to deceive beneficiaries. They may have many details about individuals, often gleaned from social media and other publicly available resources. They sound convincing.

The Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) helps beneficiaries fight back. SMP staff work in communities across the country to teach beneficiaries how to prevent, detect, and report Medicare fraud, errors, and abuse.

Here are some Medicare card scams that SMP is seeing:

The new Medicare cards don’t cost anything!
  • Telling Medicare beneficiaries they need to pay to obtain a new card. Fake charges range from $5 to $400.
  • A person claiming to be from a government agency says they need your bank account information to deposit funds into your Medicare account.
Fact: The new cards are free -- you do NOT need to pay for your new card and you don’t need to do anything to get it. Medicare will automatically mail your new card to you. In fact, you can sign up to get an email from Medicare to know when to expect your card in the mail.

You don’t need to get personal
You need to confirm or give personal information to get your new card.

Fact: You do NOT need to give any personal information to get your new card. The cards are mailed to the address you have on file with Social Security. You can update your address online, call 1-800-772-1213, or visit your local Social Security office.

No one will cancel your Medicare insurance
You need to provide your old Medicare card number to prevent your insurance from being interrupted while new cards are being mailed out.

Fact: Your Medicare coverage will not be interrupted or stopped because of your new card being mailed to you. 

For more information about Medicare card scams and other scams, contact Washington state's SMP, which is part of our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program, at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Insurance tips for recent college grads

It's graduation season and lots of new college graduates are embarking on their career journeys. Many college grads find themselves needing to make important insurance-related decisions. By better understanding insurance policies and your needs at this stage, you can get the most out of the money you spend on insurance.

Renter insurance
Renter insurance can protect your personal property against damage or loss and also protects you in case someone is injured while in your residence. If you plan to rent an apartment or other residence, here is more information about how renter insurance works.

You might be sharing your apartment or house with roommates. In this case, you likely need an individual policy that covers you and your possessions if something should happen. Speaking of your stuff, the best way to make sure you get reimbursed for your contents is to make a home inventory.

Health insurance
As you sort through job prospects, make sure salary isn't your only consideration. Health insurance is perhaps the most important job-related benefit. Study the health plans prospective employers provide and make inquiries about your options and the out-of-pocket costs. Weigh this against the cost of remaining on a parent's plan. The Affordable Care Act law allows you to stay on your parent's health insurance plan until you turn 26. Read more about understanding health insurance.

Auto insurance
Will you be looking for a car soon? Remember to factor in the cost of auto insurance. If the car was a graduation gift or you are jumping off your parents' auto insurance policy, it's time for you to discuss your coverage with an agent.

If you drive an older car that is paid off, you might consider dropping collision or comprehensive coverage as a way to cut expenses. Talk to your insurance agent or broker about the cost of collision and comprehensive coverage versus the value of the car.

Washington state requires you to maintain auto liability insurance to cover losses caused by your negligence. To avoid penalties, pay your premiums on time and don't let your coverage lapse. Have you filed a claim recently? Ask your insurance agent or broker about accident forgiveness, which may lower your rates.

Read more about understanding auto insurance.

Life insurance
There are differing opinions about the importance of purchasing life insurance before you have a family of your own. If you are single, you should make choices based on your finances, health and other circumstances. Talk to an insurance agent or broker to learn more. Some prudent steps and asking the right questions of your insurance professional can help you control your insurance costs.

Read more about understanding life insurance.

More information
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has insurance information for young singles and single parents. To find out if an agent selling home, health, auto or life insurance is licensed in Washington state, or if you have questions about insurance, contact us at

Monday, April 16, 2018

SHIBA volunteers provide exceptional customer service to Medicare clients

April marks National Volunteer Month and our Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) program recognizes the more than 400 people statewide who selflessly volunteer their time to help people navigate Medicare. They’re an integral part of the consumer protection work we do here at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.
SHIBA volunteers assist people at a Spokane outreach event 
During 2017, SHIBA volunteers:

  • Assisted more than 87,000 Medicare beneficiaries, their families and caregivers with one-on-one counseling in person and over the phone to help them:
    • Evaluate their insurance needs. 
    • Choose a Medicare plan.
    • Choose a Medicare supplement plan. 
    • Review long-term care options.
    • Apply for low-income subsidies (to help pay for prescription drugs) and Medicare Savings Plans (to help pay Medicare Part A and B premiums, copays and deductibles).
  • Educated more than 108,000 people about Medicare.
  • Held more than 3,300 outreach events statewide.
Last year, our volunteers donated 95,568 hours of their time to help Medicare consumers in our state. At a national average volunteer rate of $24.14 per hour, this amounts to approximately $2.3 million in valuable donated time and effort.

A big thanks to all of our SHIBA volunteers--not just this month, but all year long–for their hard work, dedication, compassion, commitment, patience and humility.

Read more about SHIBA services, where to find help in your area and how you too can become a SHIBA volunteer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It’s never too soon to start planning for retirement

Did you know that 2 million workers in Washington state don't have access to a retirement plan at work? Studies show that it's best to save for your retirement as early as possible. Even a few dollars a month can make a big difference 20, 30, or 40 years down the road.

Washington state residents at any stage of life can look for a retirement plan at the state’s new retirement marketplace. Small businesses and individuals can find a low-cost plan that will help them save for retirement.

Not sure how much you should save each month? The National Retirement Planning Coalition can help you calculate what you need to save based on what stage of life you are in at The site features life-stage specific resources and tools to assist Americans achieve their long-term financial goals.

Other resources from the insurance commissioner:

Friday, March 30, 2018

How to get the most out of your dental insurance

More than 249 million Americans had dental coverage at the end of 2016, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Here’s some information about how to get the most out of your dental plan.

Types of dental insurance

  • Dental preferred provider organization (DPPO/PPO: These plans are popular because they allow covered consumers to choose from an array of dentists and dental specialists. The flexibility of PPOs trends toward higher costs for that type of coverage.
  • Dental indemnity insurance: Consumers pay dentists directly for services rendered and later receive compensation from the insurance company through a sometimes lengthy claims-submission process.
  • Discount dental/dental savings plans: Dentists agree to perform services for plan owners at a discounted price. Dentists are paid the discounted rate directly by the plan owner.
What dental insurance covers
Individual policies typically cover the following at 100 percent::
  • Preventive care: Cleanings, routine office visits 
Most plans apply a copay for these services:
  • Restorative care: Fillings and crowns. 
  • Endodontics: Root canals
  • Oral surgery: Tooth removal, tissue biopsy and minor oral infection drainage.
  • Orthodontics: Braces and retainers; sometimes are covered via a rider for both individual and group policies. 
  • Periodontics: Scaling, root planning and acute infection and lesion management 
  • Prosthodontics: Dentures and bridges 
Make sure you read your policy, including the exclusions and limitations. Your insurance company will not provide benefits for excluded services even if approved, prescribed, or recommended by your dentist.

Learn more about dental insurance. 

Dental coverage for kids and seniors

Dental coverage for kids up to age 19 (also called pediatric dental insurance) is an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act. State law requires individual and small group health plans to cover these services, either as part of the health plan or through a separate stand-alone pediatric dental plan.

Medicare does not cover dental procedures. However, some Medicare Advantage plans may offer some form of dental benefit.

More information

There are varying costs for dental procedures, but you can get an idea for how much a procedure will cost you on FAIR Health Consumer's Dental Cost Estimator.

Our office regulates dental and other types of insurance. If you have questions about your coverage, contact our consumer advocates online  or call us at 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Medicare cards are coming starting in April

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start mailing redesigned Medicare cards to beneficiaries in Washington state after June 2018. The new card contains a unique, randomly assigned number that replaces consumers' Social Security numbers. The purpose is to prevent fraud, combat identity theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars. All replacement cards should be delivered nationwide by April 2019.

Here are 10 things to know about your new Medicare card:
  1. Mailing takes time: Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s.
  2. Destroy your old Medicare card: Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
  3. Guard your card: Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
  4. Your Medicare number is unique: Your card has a new number instead of your Social Security Number. This new number is unique to you.
  5. Your new card is paper: Paper cards are easier for many providers to use and copy, and they save taxpayers a lot of money. Plus, you can print your own replacement card if you need one!
  6. Keep your new card with you: Carry your new card and show it to your health care providers when you need care.
  7. Your doctor knows it’s coming: Doctors, other health care facilities and providers will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care.
  8. You can find your number: If you forget your new card, you, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your Medicare number online.
  9. Keep your Medicare Advantage card: If you’re in a Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage plan ID card is your main card for Medicare – you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, your medical provider may also ask you to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry it too.
  10. Help is available: If you don’t get your new Medicare card by April 2019, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. You can also find help in Washington state from SHIBA advisors in your area by calling 1-800-562-6900 or online. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Information for TRICARE members in Washington state

military family with two young kids
Our office regulates insurance, but not every kind of insurance. One of the types of insurance we don’t regulate are military health plans, such as TRICARE, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, we occasionally receive complaints, calls, and email inquiries from military members and retirees about those plans.

On Jan. 1, TRICARE’s contracted insurance provider changed from UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans to Health Net Federal Services. We have heard from some consumers and the TRICARE West Region that their call center is experiencing higher volume of calls with long wait times, enrollment backlogs, referral and authorization processing backlogs, and limited network provider directory & delivery issues.

While we are unable to assist in resolving military health plan complaints, we do have information that may help some people:

  • TRICARE West customer service number: 1-844-866-9378
  • Inquiries regarding West Region claims with dates of service prior to January 1, 2018 should be directed to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. For all other inquiries, contact Health Net Federal Services at 1-844-866-9378 or go to its online portal.
  • Consumers may file a complaint online with TRICARE.  
  • For more details about the transition from UHC to Health Net Federal Services, see the FAQ for Beneficiaries
  • If you decide to contact your Congressional representative, be sure to include TRICARE West’s response to your inquiry. If they advise you to contact your state’s insurance commissioner, let them know that we do not regulate your insurer. 
  • Find health care information for veterans from the OIC.
If you have questions about another type of insurance – auto, renter, homeowner, or another type of property, you can talk to a consumer advocate by calling 1-800-562-6900 or contact us online.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Insurance fraud hurts consumers, too

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner investigates criminal insurance fraud, receiving approximately 2,000 referrals each year. While insurance fraud may seem like a “victimless” crime – insurance companies carry large reserves of money in part to help pay claims – it actually harms consumers. Insurance fraud costs the average family $400 to $700 per year in increased premiums.

The OIC’s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) is staffed by law enforcement and criminal analysts who work with state and local prosecutors to bring charges against the people who are suspected of committing insurance fraud.

In 2017, our fraud investigators:
  • Analyzed and prioritized 1,896 fraud referrals.
  • Opened 102 criminal investigations and closed 93 criminal cases.
  • Submitted 33 complex criminal cases to county, state, and federal prosecutors.
  • Our work resulted in 33 criminal guilty pleas or convictions from 28 defendants.
Here are some examples of insurance fraud:
  • Buying insurance after you need it: Getting a policy after an accident or after a loss has occurred. We see this most often with auto collisions. 
  • Falsifying claims on homeowner or renter insurance: Claiming items that you didn’t actually own or falsifying the circumstances to increase the damage and the claim amount. 
  • Staging car crashes, intentionally causing car crashes (driving slow so someone rear-ends you), submitting fake medical bills after a collision, claiming a car was stolen. 
  • A medical provider billing for services or equipment that the consumer did not receive.
  • An insurance producer (agent or broker) holding onto consumers’ premium payments or selling fake policies to earn commissions.
Consumers can help deter insurance fraud in a few important ways:
  • If you see something, say something – if someone tries to rope you into a scam or tries to make you or someone you know the victim of a scam, report it to us.  
  • Make sure you are working with a licensed insurance producer, and check their complaint history on our website. 
  • Read your policies, statements and explanations of benefits forms. The best way to not be a victim is to know what your policy covers, how much you are paying, and the claims your insurance company is paying on your behalf. 
  • The chances of getting away with insurance fraud are slim. Insurance companies have sophisticated data systems that immediately flag suspect claims. People who are convicted of insurance fraud and related crimes often become felons, which means you lose some of your rights like voting, traveling to certain countries, and some public benefits. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Consumer complaints can lead to investigations, legal action against industry

Consumers can file complaints against insurance companies or against an agent or broker (they are called producers). Sometimes those complaints spur broader investigations where we identify a bigger issue.

That’s where our regulatory investigations unit comes in. We have nine investigators who come from military and civilian law enforcement, and one former insurance producer. The team investigates insurance producers in Washington who violate state insurance laws and rules. If the producer is from another state, we refer the case to that state’s insurance department. We also work closely with our own Criminal Investigations Unit and local law enforcement agencies.

In 2017, our regulatory investigators closed 188 cases, ranging from producers illegally selling insurance without a license to complex cases like annuity scams that target older consumers.

Here are some examples:
  • A simple complaint about a car rental company selling personal accident insurance resulted in an investigation that determined the company had sold 9,054 unauthorized personal accident insurance policies to consumers without being licensed. Our investigators determined the company earned $615,475.60 from the unauthorized sale of these policies. The insurance commissioner fined the company $45,000
  • Discount Tire sold more than 1.2 million unauthorized tire warranties to customers in Washington state. Discount Tire is not licensed to conduct insurance business in Washington state, and made over $32 million in sales from these unauthorized warranties between 2014 and 2016.  
  • While investigating an insurance agency suspected of employing unlicensed employees to sell insurance, one of our investigators posed as a consumer. The investigator worked with an unlicensed agency employee to fined and negotiate an insurance policy. The agency later denied the practice of employing unlicensed producers, not realizing it had had attempted to sell insurance to an OIC Investigator. The insurance commissioner fined the agency $500 for the violation.  
  • A consumer who had a language barrier bought a life insurance policy to cover future funeral expenses. When her husband passed away, the insurance wouldn’t pay the death benefit because her husband had a pre-existing health condition. One of our bilingual investigators worked with the consumer to find out what happened -- the insurance producer failed to ask her the required health questions on the insurance application. Upon review of the insurance application, our investigator found it was not possible to accurately translate the questions for consumers who don't speak English. The insurance commissioner fined the producer and the consumer received a settlement from the insurance company. 
  • A Washington consumer filed a complaint with the insurance commissioner about an annuity. The consumer asked the insurance producer for an annuity with socially responsible investments and she wanted complete access to her funds. The insurance producer sold her an annuity that allocated 20 percent of the funds to oil and gas investments and made none of the funds available to the consumer. The consumer requested a refund on the annuity; the producer, brokerage and the company declined to refund her money. As a result of the insurance commissioner’s investigation, the producer’s license was revoked, the agency was fined $2,000 and the company was ordered to refund the consumer for the annuity plus 8 percent annual interest and pay a $20,000 fine for violating state insurance laws.
If you have a question about your insurance policy, agent or company, you can find us online or call us at 1-800-562-6900.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Free, unbiased health insurance counseling is available in all areas of Washington state

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner oversees Washington’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA). SHIBA offers free, unbiased and confidential assistance with Medicare and other health care choices.

SHIBA can help you:
  • Understand your Medicare coverage benefits, options and rights.
  • Determine your general eligibility for programs that can help you pay for your Medicare.
  • Evaluate and compare health insurance plans.
In 2017, our 400 SHIBA volunteer advisors helped more than 108,000 people understand Medicare. Advisors are available in communities throughout the state; find one near you.

For people who are about to turn or recently turned 65, we host Medicare events around the state.  You can also find information about Medicare on our website.

Are you interested in becoming a SHIBA volunteer? Find out more

Need more help? Call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-562-6900 or find help online.

Monday, March 5, 2018

It's National Consumer Protection Week -- we are here to help with insurance

National Consumer Protection Week is March 4-10 and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner is one of many state agencies that help Washington consumers.

This week, we’ll highlight some of the ways our agency helps consumers. Follow along on social media; you can also subscribe to our blog by email or text.

Most people have at least one type of insurance, whether it be health, home, auto, renter, business or another policy. Our consumer advocates are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions about insurance, help you find information and resources about insurance, or help resolve disputes with your insurance company.

Here are some examples of ways we’ve helped consumers recently:
  • An insurance company delayed a total loss claim for a consumer whose vehicle was damaged in a collision.
  • A consumer was airlifted to a hospital and the health insurance company denied the bill for the air ambulance. We helped the consumer get the insurance company to pay the claim in full, worth more than $30,000. 
  • A consumer reached out to us with concerns about a life insurance policy. We recommended the client file a complaint with our office against the insurer. We worked on their behalf, resulting in the consumer receiving a check for more than $100,000.
  • A house fire caused more than $100,000 to a consumer’s home. We helped the consumer work with the insurer to cover the damage and pay to replace the contents that were lost. 
In 2017, we helped recover $18.9 million for consumers related to claims, refunds and billing issues.

If you need help with an insurance question, here’s how you can reach us:
WA OIC 2017 consumer advocacy

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If you run a business out of your home, here’s why you should talk to your insurance agent

If you run a business out of your home, your homeowner insurance policy may not cover you adequately. Homeowner insurance policies typically do not cover any losses or liability related to a business.

In other words, if something were to happen related to your business, you would be on the hook for all damage to your property and any ensuing liability (your responsibility for damage to other people’s property or injury to other people).

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you run a business out of your home:
  • Do you keep business related stock or inventory in your home?
  • Do you have specialized or difficult-to-replace equipment that requires special consideration? Many renters or homeowners policies limit office equipment replacement to $2,500. Would this cover the equipment you need to keep your business running?
  • Do clients or customers visit your home office? If so, are you protected against possible lawsuits if a visitor were to injure themselves?
  • If your home office were destroyed by a flood or fire, how would you be compensated for the downtime?
Read more about insurance and your home business on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Kreidler’s consumer advocates recovered $18.9 million for consumers in 2017

Most people know that we regulate insurance in Washington state, but many aren’t aware that we also help consumers when they have questions about insurance or have trouble with their insurance company. In fact, we have an entire division dedicated to protecting consumers from financial harm.
An OIC consumer advocate attends an outreach event 

In 2017, our consumer advocates:
  • Received and processed 7,705 consumer complaints, resulting in recovery of $18.9 million related to insurance billings, refunds and various claim-handling issues to consumers. 
  • Answered 63,823 calls to our consumer hotline regarding insurance issues, rights and responsibilities.
  • Responded to 5,801 written inquiries.
  • Mailed 1,904 insurance-related publications to consumers upon their request.
  • Helped consumers resolve various policy issues, including claims, billing, and underwriting problems, and offered referral services to other state agencies and organizations, including the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
Our consumer advocates can help you:
We share information of interest to insurance consumers on this blog and through our social media channels. Many of our blog and social media posts are generated by consumers’ questions.

More resources for consumers:
  • Reach us by phone at 1-800-562-6900 or online
  • File a complaint against an insurance company or agent. 
  • Read more about how to get help from our consumer advocates. 
  • Read more about your insurance, including home, life, auto, health, annuities and business. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Corporate efforts to innovate health care will be of interest to many

The announcement by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase to form a company to contain health care costs for their employees has generated considerable attention – and for good reason.

The leaders of these companies are renowned for their ability to innovate. We certainly agree with them that health care costs are unsustainable and need to be lower. We’ve been saying that for years. How they plan to accomplish such a monumental task remains to be seen. Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said the companies don’t “come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable.”

It’s an admirable goal and one that comes with a lot of work ahead. Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, acknowledges the truth by saying “the health care system is complex.”

How the companies go about cutting costs and improving results is something that many will watch. Companies like Amazon self-insure for their employees’ health care and are not subject to regulation by this office.

The companies have yet to provide details on what they are considering. But we think it’s safe to assume they may have a focus on the direct purchase of health care – contracting directly with medical providers, including hospitals, and finding an imaginative way around the gnawing issue of soaring costs for prescription drugs. We will pay attention to their efforts to see what effect it has on the health care landscape and the companies we do regulate.

We hope they will build on some the key successes of the Affordable Care Act to date – greater coverage, more focus on costs and results that benefit patients. Regulators stand ready to offer the benefit of their experience in this effort.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Health insurers in Washington must cover 12 months of oral contraceptives at a time

Starting this year, health insurance companies in Washington state are required to cover a 12-month supply of birth control pills, rather than 12 separate 30-day refills.

The prescriptions are also provided to consumers at no cost, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. That means women can get a 12-month supply of birth control pills in one visit to the pharmacy without paying out of pocket. Before this year, women had to get refills once every 30 to 90 days.

Washington state Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, sponsored the bill the passed the Legislature in 2017. She told KNKX that the bill was a way to remove barriers for women.

Need more information? Read more about insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives on our website.

Questions? Contact our consumer advocates online by phone at 1-800-562-6900.