Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Insurance when you're laid off: What to ask for on your way out the door

Nobody wants a layoff notice, but critical insurance moves on your way out the door can help extend your health insurance (and other coverage) and save you thousands of dollars at a critical time. spelled this out today in an article titled "Insurance smarts during a layoff: 3 must-do moves."

Among the advice:
  • Ask for an extension of health care benefits. Ask for the employer to keep you covered for 3-6 months.
  • Negotiate with your employer to have them pay COBRA insurance premiums, which can be very expensive.
  • Convert group life insurance or group disability coverage to an individual plan, particularly if you're older.

Report: Health costs' rapid rise

The Commonwealth Fund has published a new report looking at state trends in health insurance premiums and deductibles from 2003 to 2010.

The upshot: employees' annual share of premiums increased by 63 percent over those 7 years (and premiums themselves rose 50 percent as well). In Washington state, for example, family health insurance premiums rose from $9,212 to $14,188 during that period. That's a 54 percent increase.

Not surprisingly, given stagnant incomes in recent years, premiums as a percentage of median household income during that time increased dramatically. In 2003, only a single state (West Virginia) had average premiums above 20 percent of median household income. Today, about half the states are in that category.

For a look at premiums (single and family) by state, here's a good interactive map from the report.

The report continues:
 At the same time, per-person deductibles doubled in large, as well as small, firms.
If premium trends continued at that rate, the researchers predicted, "the average premium for family coverage will rise 72 percent by 2020, to nearly $24,000."

Federal health care reform, passed in early 2010 but taking effect largely in 2014, offers the hope of some savings, the report says:
Health reform offers the potential to reduce insurance cost growth while improving financial protections. If efforts succeed in slowing annual premium growth by 1 percentage point, by 2020 employers and families together would save $2,161 annually for family coverage, compared with projected premiums at historical rates of increase.

Colorado couple ordered to stop selling insurance in Washington state

A Colorado couple, Robert W. Ramlet and Patricia Ramlet, has been ordered to stop selling insurance in Washington state.

In 2006, the two sold two life insurance policies in Washington state without being licensed as insurance agents here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Commissioner Kreidler on health care reform, the individual mandate, and rate transparency

Commissioner Kreidler was interviewed by host Austin Jenkins on TVW's Inside Olympia program this morning to discuss health care reform, health insurance costs, and his successful push to release confidential rate information from health insurers.

On the federal Affordable Care Act: "While this act is not perfect, it is the best thing that we have going right now to get our hands around a very serious problem for this country of ours...People are really being hurt...The current system is broken."

On the individual mandate to buy health coverage, starting in 2014: "If you have people opting in when they're sick and out when they're well, it just plain won't work."

On health care exchanges: "It's going to be a lot like online shopping that a lot of people are familiar with. And that's going to be a huge advantage over what we have now."

Additional flood warnings in WA

After overnight rain in parts of the state, the National Weather Service has issued another flood warning, including:

The Nooksack River at North Cedarville (Whatcom County)
The North Fork of the Stillaguamish near Arlington (Snohomish County)
The Deschutes near Rainier (Thurston County)
The Chehalis at Porter (Grays Harbor County)

Minor flooding is expected at some of those locations today or tonight. The Chehalis River at Porter was close to flood stage at 8:45 this morning.

See the link above for details.

Update: (11:41 a.m.) Another warning's been issued, including some other area rivers. The upper reaches of most rivers crested this morning or will crest this afternoon, with crests moving downstream through Thursday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Flood warning issued for parts of Lewis, Thurston, Pierce counties

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the:
  • Newaukum River near Chehalis (reaching flood stage this evening, continuing through Weds night or Thursday)
  • Chehalis River near Doty (this evening)
  • Chehalis River at Centralia (late tonight)
  • and the Chehalis River near Grand Mound. (late tonight)
"Minor to moderate flooding is expected along the Chehalis and Newaukum Rivers beginning this evening," the weather service says.

In addition, a flood watch remains in effect for the lower reach of the Chehalis River in Grays Harbor County, where the NWS says flooding is possible starting late Wednesday.

Up to 4 inches of rain has fallen in the Chehalis River Basin during the past 24 hours. Another 2-5 inches is expected from now through Wednesday night. For more details, including specific roads and areas likely to flood, click the link above.

Here's the critical part, from our perspective: Flood damage is not covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you want coverage against flooding -- and your lender may require it if you live in a flood-prone area -- you'll need to buy extra coverage.

For most homeowners, that means going to the National Flood Insurance Program, a federally run insurance plan that's sold by local agents. But the coverage takes 30 days before it goes into effect. Flood season is long in the Pacific Northwest. If you think you're at risk -- and see the red "One-stop flood risk profile" box check your flood risk and get an estimate of premiums -- definitely consider flood insurance. And don't delay.

Update: (12:02 p.m.) A new alert has been issued for minor flooding along the Puyallup River near Orting and the Deschutes River near Rainier.

Two warranty companies ordered to stop selling in Washington

We issued a cease and desist against Charter Warranty Services of Detroit, MI and TracGuard Services of North Miami, FL, ordering both to stop selling protection products in our state without a license.

Both companies were selling motor vehicle service contracts and protection products guarantees but had not registered with us. In Washington state, all motor vehicle service contract and protection product providers must register with our office.

If they fail to do so, they're required to get a certificate of authority to act as an insurer and get an agent or producer license in order to sell their products.

Don't recognize these two companies, but still wondering if you should get a warranty on your next big purchase? We can help. See if the company is registered before you buy a policy.

And consider these helpful tips on negotiating a price and what to ask before you buy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wind warning for tonight

The National Weather Service is predicting gusts of up to 60 miles per hour in parts of Washington state tonight, including San Juan County, western Whatcom County, western Skagit County and the Admiralty Inlet area.

The day after windstorms, we often get a wave of calls from people with toppled trees, debris-damaged cars, etc.

To help, we put together this list of typical questions, including:

Am I covered if my car was damaged by falling tree limbs?
My yard is covered with branches and debris. Will my insurer pay the cleanup costs?
My boat sank from strong winds. Am I covered?
My business' awning was damaged by the wind. Can I file a claim?

Be careful out there.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sentencing this afternoon for insurance agent who stole $1 million from elderly clients

Former insurance agent Jasmine Jamrus-Kassim is scheduled to be sentenced later today for stealing more than $1 million in retirement savings from several elderly clients. Jamrus-Kassim pleaded guilty last month to 10 counts of first-degree theft.

The King County Prosecutors Office is seeking an exceptional prison sentence of 68 months. The case is State v. Jamrus-Kassim, with sentencing slated at 3:30 p.m. before Judge Sharon Armstrong in courtroom E-847.

From 2007 to late 2009, several of Jamrus-Kassim's clients cashed out large portions of their retirement accounts, apparently thinking they were re-investing the money. In reality, the money went to Jamrus-Kassim, who spent tens of thousands of dollars on a psychic hotline, clothes, jewelry and a trip to Mexico.

An investigation by the Washington insurance commissioner's Special Investigations Unit led to her arrest in March

And Bankers Life and Casualty, one of the companies that Jamrus-Kassim worked for, agreed last month to repay the money that Jamrus-Kassim stole

Update: As it turned out, sentencing was continued until Dec. 9 after Jamrus-Kassim demanded a new attorney.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are insurers looking at your Facebook page?

There's an interesting article in Insurance & Technology, detailing the ways in which insurers could use -- and in some cases, are starting to use -- the information you post on your social media sites.
"When placed in public areas of users' profiles, these photos -- not to mention location information and personal statements in status updates -- represent data insurers can potentially use for claims and underwriting purposes,"
writes I&T's Nathan Golia, citing an October report from consulting firm Celent.

In a summary of the report, ABA Banking Journal called social media "a huge marketing and engagement potential for insurers," adding that:
"Most insurers are currently involved in only defensive actions. Celent expects that over the next three years, companies familiar with social media will being to apply social data to their buisinesses," and looking for vendors to help them capture, store and analyze social media data.
Insurance Networking News also reports that:
Celent predicts that social data will be incorporated into core underwriting and claims processes over the next three years and become standard inputs into risk evaluation and settlement activities."
In other words, your insurer may not be reading your Facebook profile or Tweets yet. But it may be soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tacoma landlords charged with insurance fraud

A Pierce County couple and an acquaintance of theirs have each been charged with one felony count of insurance fraud.

William Harold Dummitt and Carole A Dummitt-Dombrowski rent out a cottage behind their home in Tacoma. On Nov. 25, 2010, the cottage had a water leak. The Dummitts submitted a claim to their insurer, USAA.

But they allegedly inflated their loss by claiming they’d been getting more rent from the cottage than they did – and to try to prove that by forging a renter’s signature on a false rental agreement.

Their acquaintance, Philip R. Burgess, told an investigator that he’d moved into the cottage on Dec. 1, 2010 and had to move out because of the sudden leak. But when the leak actually happened – Nov. 25, 2010 – Burgess was actually living in Portland, Ore.

Arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Update: (Feb. 1, 2012): William and Carole Dummitt each pleaded guilty to one count of false claims or proof in an insurance claim. Both were ordered to pay $1,200 in costs and assessments, and were each sentenced to 3 days in jail, which was converted to 24 hours of community service.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tired of being suprised by health rate changes?

Now you can sign up to get notified by e-mail whenever your health plan wants to make a rate change - and when we've made our decision.

A newly enhanced website, built with grant funds from Affordable Care Act, allows you to search rate requests for individual and small employer health plans, sign up to get an e-mail when your health plan wants a change, and make a public comment about requests still under review.

Eight requests are pending and eight decisions have been made - see the full details for yourself.