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.