Friday, March 22, 2019

Spring snowmelt, rain will increase chance of floods, landslides

According to FEMA Region X, most watersheds in Washington are near their average snowpack levels for this time of year. That’s a good thing for the upcoming wildfire season, which started strong this week with 50 fires -- 49 of them in Western Washington, according to Washington State Department of Natural Resources. However, the strong snowpack also increases the risk of flooding as snow melts and spring rain begins.

Snowpack map from USDA/NRCS 

Regions that experienced wildfires in the last three years are especially susceptible to flooding. If you live in one of those areas, you should be alert for flood warnings and you should look into flood insurance. Just one inch of water in the average home can cause more $25,000 in damage. 

Many agents and brokers offer flood insurance policies available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which offers protection against flood hazards for homeowners, business owners, condo owners and renters. Typically, there is a 30-day waiting period before your flood insurance policy takes effect.

Excess water can also cause landslides, which are not covered by homeowner or flood insurance. You will need what’s called a “difference in conditions policy” to be covered for a landslide. You can ask your agent or broker about purchasing a difference in conditions policy. Read more about landslide insurance.

Find more information about floods and homeowner’s insurance, including tips for protecting your home and belongings. We also have tips for filing a claim after a natural disaster and how to find disaster resources.

Friday, March 8, 2019

What happens if I total my car?

One of the most common questions we get is “What’s the process now that my car’s been totaled?”

A total loss (the term insurers use) is when a vehicle is in a collision and the insurance company determines it would cost more than the vehicle is worth to repair it, so they “total” it.

Once an insurer declares a vehicle a total loss, they owe you the retail market value of your car, plus sales tax. But how do you know if the amount the insurer offers you is a reasonable estimate of the retail market value? Many consumers don’t know they have the right to, and should, ask the insurance company for a total loss valuation report, which shows the comparable auto data the insurer used to calculate your vehicle’s value. Most insurance companies don’t automatically provide the report to consumers and there’s no requirement that they provide it without being asked.

Insurers can either give you cash for your vehicle’s retail value or offer to replace your vehicle with a comparable vehicle in your area. A quick note about this point -- Washington state law doesn’t allow insurers to look at car values more than 150 miles from your home unless you give them permission. Even if you are dealing with someone else's insurer, they still need to look for comparable cars in and near where the vehicle is normally garaged or parked.

If you have problems with this -- and you live in Washington state -- feel free to file a complaint with our office so we can help ensure that the rules are followed. If you live in another state, check with your state's insurance department.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or by calling 1-800-562-6900.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

What is PIP and do I need it?

Auto insurance policies sold in Washington state often offer personal injury protection (PIP), which helps pay for certain costs suffered in a collision, including:
  • Medical expenses 
  • Lost wages 
  • Lost services 
  • Funeral expenses 
There are also things that it won't cover, including injuries caused when using:
  • Farm equipment 
  • Off-road vehicles 
  • Mopeds 
  • Injuries sustained while racing 
  • Injuries sustained while committing a felony
Also -- and this is important -- PIP does not cover services that your insurer decides are not:
  • Reasonable 
  • Necessary 
  • Related to the accident 
  • Incurred within three years of the accident 
Agents and insurance companies are required to offer PIP coverage, and you must opt out of it if you don’t want it.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Little-known database can affect your insurance rates

Most insurance consumers are not aware there’s a little-known database called CLUE—Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange—that can affect consumers’ property and auto insurance rates without their knowledge.

What should consumers know about CLUE?
  • It’s a report generated by LexisNexis that contains up to seven years of your personal auto and property claims history. The data comes from insurance companies when they close claims you file. 
  • Insurance companies review the CLUE data and use it to set the rates they charge you. 
  • You have the right to request a free copy of your report: 

LexisNexis, Consumer Center
Request your personal report online

If you find mistakes in your CLUE report that you want to dispute, contact LexisNexis Consumer Center at 888-497-0011.

Read more about CLUE.

Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What can I do if my health insurer denies my claim?

It’s not uncommon for a health insurance company to refuse to pay for medical treatment. If it happens to you, it doesn’t have to be the final word.

You can appeal to your insurer. If the answer's still no, you can appeal to an independent review organization. In addition to appealing a denial, you can also file a complaint with us.

If you want to file an appeal with your health plan, contact them and ask: “What do I need to do to file an appeal?” After that, you’ll need to collect materials that support your appeal, such as documentation from your medical provider and information about your medical condition.

After you send your appeal materials to the health plan, be persistent. Most people don’t win at the first level of appeal, but the odds of winning increase as you reach higher levels of appeals. The chance of winning is highest when your health plan appeal reaches the final level, called an Independent Review Organization.

Read more information and find letter templates and other pointers in the appeals section of our website. If you need help, file a complaint with us.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What happens if I lose my health insurance?

Health insurance is available only during a short window each year, called open enrollment. This year, open enrollment for individual and family health plans starts Nov. 1, 2019 for coverage to take effect in 2020.

However, certain events qualify you for a special enrollment, including losing your existing health coverage.

If you lose coverage that was provided by an employer, you are eligible to buy a COBRA plan, as well.

COBRA is a federal law that allows you and any of your immediate family members to stay on your employer’s health plan if you lose your job or your employer coverage.

COBRA can be expensive. People who choose COBRA coverage must pay the entire premium, including the portion previously paid by the employer, plus a 2 percent administrative fee.

Before you decide to go with COBRA, find out if you can buy a health plan through Washington Healthplanfinder and receive a subsidy to help pay your insurance premiums. If you don’t qualify for any subsidies, you can also purchase coverage directly from an insurance company, broker or agent.

Other events that qualify you for a special enrollment include:
  • Having or adopting a baby.
  • Moving to a new area that’s not covered in your existing plan.
  • Getting married or divorced.
  • A change in eligibility for your existing health plan. 
  • Your health plan stops selling coverage in Washington state. 
Read more about special enrollment on our website. Questions? Contact our insurance experts or call 1-800-562-6900.