Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New car? Call your insurance agent

If you take advantage of a good end-of-the-year deal on a new vehicle, be sure to report it to your insurance company right away, and don’t forget to ask them for a quote for Debt Payoff Coverage. This coverage will pay off the outstanding loan balance if your vehicle is destroyed in a covered claim and its current market value is less than your outstanding loan. Your agent and insurer can answer your questions and provide more detail on how the coverage works.

Learn more about auto insurance in Washington state.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Did a furry new family member join you this holiday season?

If Santa brought you or someone in your household a puppy or kitten, you may be thinking about purchasing pet insurance.

Pet insurance is relatively new in the insurance world. It helps pay veterinary bills for preventive care or if your pet is ill or gets hurt. Most plans limit coverage to dogs and cats, so you can stop reading now if you got a new bearded dragon or bunny. Most also require a health screening to make sure your dog or cat is healthy; if you have an older pet, it likely won’t qualify for coverage.

Be a smart shopper – make sure the insurer is licensed in Washington, compare plans’ coverage, deductibles, copayments, coverage limits and exclusions.

Read more of our tips on pet insurance.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

OIC hiring program analysts to work with insurers, consumers

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is hiring two Functional Program Analyst 3 positions, one in Rates and Forms and the other in Consumer Protection.

OIC’s Rates and Forms Division regulates insurance companies that do business in Washington. The person in that position is responsible for reviewing insurance policy forms to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and rules and working with insurance companies. It requires customer service experience, good communication skills and ability to work timely and accurately. This position is open until filled. Read more about the position and salary.

Our Consumer Protection Division helps consumers who have complaints about insurance companies. The person in this position will staff our consumer hotline and enter calls into our consumer protection database. They also research and resolve consumer complaints, including analyzing whether insurance companies’ solutions to consumer complaints comply with insurance rules. This position closes Jan. 12. Read more about the responsibilities and salary.

Did you miss the deadline for health insurance coverage in January? You still have time to get covered by February.

The deadline for applying for medical insurance under the Affordable Care Act for coverage that starts in January was Dec. 23. If you did start your application, you have until Jan. 15 to select a plan and pay your premium for coverage that back-dates to Jan. 1.

If you were unable to do that, open enrollment closes March 31. You can still obtain coverage starting in February or March, depending on when you sign up. For February coverage, the deadline to enroll is Jan. 23.

If you qualify for a subsidy or Medicaid, you should obtain medical insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder, our state’s health benefit exchange. If you do not qualify for a subsidy, you can buy a health plan directly from an insurance company. Here’s a list of the plans that are available in Washington.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Before you rent a car or loan out yours, consider a few things

Will you need to rent a car during your holiday travels? Does your brother want to borrow your car while he’s home from college? Here are a few things to consider.

What should I know about rental car insurance?

If you are renting a car while you travel, you will likely be offered insurance by the rental car company. Before you decide, check with your agent to find out if your personal auto insurance policy covers damage to cars you rent. Many policies do not cover costs that aren’t directly related to damage, such as the daily fee charged by the rental agency for each day the car is out of service being repaired. In that case, you may want to consider buying coverage from the rental agency.

Read more about rental car insurance.

If I loan my car to someone and they cause a wreck, can my auto insurance increase even if I wasn’t driving?

It’s likely, since your insurer will have to pay a claim under your policy. We recommend you contact your agent to find out for sure. Unless you have a restricted policy that only covers you as a listed driver, a standard auto policy will typically cover people whom you allow to drive your vehicle. If the wreck involves a crime—fleeing the scene, driving under the influence or using the car to commit a crime – then your coverage would not extend to their use.

In general, unless you have a restricted policy or you didn’t authorize the use of your car, when you loan your car, you loan your insurance.

Read more about what most auto insurance policies cover.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finishing up your holiday shopping? Here are a few things to consider.

What should I do if gifts are stolen from my car?

Tired after a long day of shopping and you don’t unload your car? Or did you load your car with packages that you need to mail? 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. If you do file a claim, make sure you have receipts for what was stolen, and you should be prepared to turn in a copy of the police report, if one exists. Damage to your car would be covered by your auto insurance.

Read more about understanding your auto insurance.

Is warranty worth buying for gifts or high-ticket items?

We encourage consumers to carefully read the terms of the warranty before making a decision. We also encourage consumers to find out if a warranty company is registered to do business in Washington state.

Complaints we get from consumers generally focus on warranty claims that the companies say aren’t covered, or consumers requesting a refund when they change their mind about the warranty. The warranty contract will tell consumers how they can request a refund; state law requires a 10-business-day window to request a refund of a warranty.

If you are unhappy with the service you receive with a warranty you purchase, you can file a complaint with us.

Read more about warranties and service contracts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Should I buy travel insurance?

If you are getting ready to travel for the holidays, here are some things to consider about travel insurance before you decide if it's worth it.

Many travel companies—airlines, cruise lines, resorts—offer travel insurance that will refund most or all of the cost of the trip in certain circumstances. Policies typically cover things like trip cancelations due to illness, civil unrest, job loss, or the carrier going out of business. They’ll also pay for fees incurred by missed connections and delays; baggage damage or loss; medical expenses incurred by an injury or illness while traveling; emergency evacuation; car rental damage; and accidental death.

Before you decide whether to purchase travel insurance, you should consider:
  • What your medical insurance covers when you travel.
  • What your homeowner or renter insurance covers in the event of lost or stolen belongings.
  • What your life insurance policy covers in the event of accidental death while traveling.
  • What the cancelation policy is for the travel insurance.
  • Read the policy's fine print. Some don't cover certain activities such as hang-gliding, bungee jumping or other physical contact sports. Some also exclude certain pre-existing conditions from the medical coverage they offer.
  • .
  • You should also make sure the travel insurance company is licensed to sell insurance in Washington.

Read more about travel insurance on our website.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

OIC web-based applications will be down tonight

Starting at 5 p.m. tonight, OIC’s website applications will be unavailable while the state Department of Consolidated Technology Services—the state’s IT agency—moves our applications to new servers. We expect the applications will be available early tomorrow morning. Our website, www.insurance.wa.gov, will remain live.

The outage will primarily affect insurance companies, insurance agents and brokers, consumers who have complaints and State Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) volunteers.

Most of our online services will be unavailable, including:

  • Agent and broker online licensing
  • Online consumer complaints
  • Agent and company lookup
  • Online filing search
  • SHIBA online

We appreciate your patience.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Washington receives $192,293 from multistate insurance settlement

Washington state is receiving $192,293 as part of a multistate settlement against Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. and two of its affiliated companies.

Lincoln National Life Insurance Co., Lincoln Life and Annuity Co. of New York, and First Penn Pacific Life Insurance Company—part of the Lincoln Group Companies—agreed to a $12.6 million settlement regarding its policies and procedures for identifying and paying customers and their beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retained asset accounts and annuity contracts.

Six states’ insurance commissioners led the case--California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. The settlement terms require Lincoln to reform some business practices and regulatory oversight for several years, culminating in a final review in five years.

In Washington, fines paid by insurance companies are deposited in the state's general fund to pay for state government operations and public K-12 education. Life insurance pays a predetermined amount of money to beneficiaries upon the death of the policyholder. Read more about life insurance on OIC’s website.

Friday, December 13, 2013

People in federal high-risk insurance pool get extra month of coverage

President Obama’s administration announced yesterday that people who participate in the federal Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will be covered through Jan. 31, 2014. The extension affects about 443 Washington residents and about 135,000 nationwide. The pool covers people who were previously ineligible for health insurance because of chronic pre-existing health conditions including cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses. The extension allows people in the pool more time to find coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Approximately 3,675 Washington residents are covered under the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP), which is the state’s insurance plan for people with chronic health conditions. People in that plan will keep their coverage through the end of 2017. Both the federal and state high-risk insurance pools are closed to enrolling new members.

WashingtonHealthplanfinder, Washington’s health benefit exchange, has been unavailable for many people this month. Yesterday, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler advised people who are not eligible for a subsidy and are still tyring to find insurance before Jan. 1 to find health insurance from a private broker or agent. Washington residents with incomes of up to $45,960 for an individual and up to $94,200 for a family of 4 are eligible for subsidized insurance plans through the Washington health benefit exchange. Read the news release.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are all of the contents of my home covered by my insurance policy?

Maybe, maybe not. Some policies offer limited coverage for items such as jewelry, art, coins, stamp collections, furs, guns or business-related property. If you own these types of items, talk to your agent to determine if you need to buy increased coverage or a separate policy to cover the value of those items.

You will be expected to prove your ownership of the items with receipts or with photos of the damaged or missing items. Don’t wait until you have a loss to find out what your policy covers and requires.

Read more about understanding your homeowners insurance.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Witness smokes out insurance fraud by business owner

A Renton business owner has been sentenced after being found guilty of insurance fraud and first-degree theft, both felonies.

Cassk Thomas, Jr., owner of Sams Pitt II Mobile BBQ, filed a claim in August 2011 with American Family Insurance that the barbecue smoker and trailer he used to operate his mobile barbecue business were stolen. He sought reimbursement for $24,668 in lost business and $32,243 that he said he paid for the smoker and trailer. American Family Insurance paid him a total of nearly $56,000 – $30,474 for the smoker and trailer and the full amount he claimed for lost business. A witness later provided proof that the smoker and trailer were purchased by a former business partner for $9,740.

Mr. Thomas was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 120 hours of community service, and faces restitution to American Family Insurance. The full restitution amount will be determined by May 2014.

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s Special Investigations Unit investigates insurance fraud. You can report suspected insurance fraud on our website.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pipes freeze and break, tree hits your roof – does insurance cover these?

Winter conditions are setting in around the state, so now is a good time to prepare for cold, snow and ice and familiarize yourself with what your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance covers in the event of weather-related damage.
We have a page of frequently asked questions about winter weather and insurance coverage on our website.
You can read more about winter weather preparedness and holiday safety on the Washington Emergency Management Division’s website.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Commissioner Kreidler to testify before U.S. House of Representatives

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler will testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health on Dec. 4  about the Affordable Care Act and how it’s working in Washington state.
The Affordable Care Act is the first major step toward making changes that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. For the first time, people have access to affordable, comprehensive medical insurance that doesn’t penalize them for their gender or for having existing medical conditions. Americans will not be subject to limits on their lifetime or annual medical benefits, which unfairly targets people with chronic medical conditions. 

Commissioner Kreidler, a board member of Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, will touch on our state’s experience in enrolling more than 100,000 citizens through Washington Healthplanfinder.
The hearing starts at 7 a.m. Pacific time and will stream live online.