Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are you covered for flood damage? The answer may surprise you

This month has been the soggiest March on record in the Seattle area, according to the Associated Press, and some areas of the state are experiencing heavy rain that may cause flooding today and tomorrow. Here are some things that are good to know about floods and insurance:
  • Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood damage is not on standard homeowner policies and most commercial policies, although many people assume it is. That can be a costly assumption. Your mortgage lender may require you to have flood insurance if your home is located in a flood-prone area, also known as a "special flood hazard area." You can estimate your property's flood risk online.
  • Most people buy flood insurance through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These policies are sold through local insurance agents and brokers, which you can locate online. As with most policies, there are limits to what is covered.
  • Flood insurance rates are in flux. In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which changed the way the National Flood Insurance Program is run. Among those changes were premium rate increases to make the program more financially stable. However, a new bill is being heard in Congress that would slow the premium increases for certain policyholders. That bill, call Grimm-Waters, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 4.
  • If your vehicle is damaged in a flood, your auto policy’s comprehensive coverage typically will cover it. However, you should verify you have that type of coverage with your insurance agent or broker. Read more about auto insurance.
You can read more about flood insurance on OIC’s website.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Protect your identity to prevent Medicare fraud

During National Consumer Protection Week, OIC is offering tips to help protect insurance consumers in Washington.
Medicare is the national health care plan for all U.S. citizens age 65 and older. It also covers people younger than age 65 who receive Social Security Disability Income and people diagnosed with specific conditions.
Medicare is a $585 billion program with approximately 48 million enrollees. That number will grow as more baby boomers become eligible for Medicare. Medicare fraud can be hard to track, but some estimate that Medicare fraud accounts for up to 10 percent of its annual budget.
We all pay a price for Medicare fraud, waste and abuse, which contributes significantly to rising health care costs. Here are some red flags to watch for:
  • Check your monthly statement for services or equipment you didn’t receive or for prices that seem higher than you expect or were told.
  • Never give your Medicare number (which is your Social Security number) in exchange for “free” testing, screening, products or services. Never give your Medicare number to anyone who calls or solicits you. Medicare will never call you.
  • A medical provider should never charge you for billing Medicare on your behalf or for filling out forms.
  • Medical providers should never who waive your coinsurance or deductible.
View more Medicare fraud tips on our website.
If you suspect Medicare fraud or have questions about your bill, call OIC’s Statewide Health Benefits Insurance Advisors (SHIBA) at 1-800-562-6900 or contact a local SHIBA office.
SHIBA also holds Medicare fraud prevention workshops throughout the state.

OIC expands online services through NIPR

The OIC has expanded the types of applications we can accept online through our partnership with the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR) to new and renewing insurance licenses for: 
  • Washington resident insurance producers (full lines only) 
  • Washington surplus lines brokers 
  • Out-of-state surplus lines brokers
Through our partnership with NIPR, an applicant or licensee can submit multiple applications or renewals to more than one state simultaneously. In today’s marketplace, many insurance professionals hold licenses in multiple states. View a list of applications that may be submitted to OIC through NIPR.

Truth is stranger than fiction -- these life insurance questions prove it

Life insurance can be confusing under the best circumstances. Our Consumer Advocates shared some questions they’ve received about life insurance benefits under unusual circumstances:
My ex-husband died and the life insurance company won’t give me the money, even though I’m still listed as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. Can they do this?
Yes, they can. In fact, state law requires it. Under Washington probate law, divorce automatically cancels an ex-spouse’s standing as beneficiary on a life insurance policy. What if someone still wants their ex-spouse to be the beneficiary after the divorce? After the divorce is final, they should fill out and submit a new beneficiary form listing the ex-spouse (again) as beneficiary.
I’m in the midst of a divorce and I want to remove my soon-to-be ex-spouse as the beneficiary on my life insurance policy. Do I need to wait until the divorce is final?
The answer to this depends on a few things.
Does it look like the divorce decree will list this life insurance policy as one of the marital assets? If so, you should wait until the divorce is final, because the divorce decree might dictate what you can do with the policy. If you’re sure the divorce decree won’t list this life insurance policy as a marital asset, you could remove your wife as beneficiary for up to 50 percent of the policy.
While the marriage is still in effect, though, state community property laws make people list their spouse as beneficiary for 50 percent of the policy unless the spouse agrees in writing to do otherwise. The moment a divorce becomes final, state probate law automatically cancels the ex-spouse as beneficiary on the policy. As a result, even if you never remove your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, the insurance company won’t give your ex the life insurance money.
For obvious reasons, though, most people choose to fill out a new beneficiary form after a divorce is final.
I briefly dated someone and after we broke up, she told people that she bought a life insurance policy for me while we were still together. Is that even possible?
As odd as this may sound, we hear this question regularly. The answer: It’s unlikely that someone could buy a life insurance policy on your behalf without your knowledge and consent. Washington state law says that people need to have an “insurable interest” before they can buy a policy on someone’s life, and only a close relative such as a spouse or parent would meet this standard.
Also, before selling a life insurance policy, most insurance companies send a representative to meet you, check your identification and take a sample of your blood for testing.
If you are genuinely concerned in a situation like this and fear for your safety – something we’ve heard from many consumers – we advise you to contact your local police department.
Find more information about life insurance on our website.

Do some leg work before you purchase an auto warranty

We receive a number of complaints from consumers regarding auto warranties, warranty premium refund guarantees, and loan gap waivers sold by car dealerships. Unfortunately, we get the calls after consumers encounter a problem with the warranty they purchased.
Generally these types of products are offered at the time of the vehicle’s sale and consumers may feel pressured to buy these types of warranties without really understanding what they are getting. The cost of these types of warranties is often added to the loan amount, which increases the amount you borrow, your monthly payment and the warranty price because you interest on it over the life of the loan.
While we are not finance experts, we do recommend that consumers contact their insurance agent or our consumer advocates before deciding to buy these products. Consumers can call or email us to discuss the product; consumers can see whether or the warranties are properly registered to sell plans in Washington by searching our company or agent lookup.
Remember, you have 10 days under state law to revoke your purchase of any warranty and receive a full refund. After 30 days, the company may prorate your refund.
Many consumers don’t know that you can request your insurance agent add a debt waiver or loan balance payoff coverage to your insurance policy when you buy a new car. This type of insurance protects you if your car is “totaled” (called a “total loss” by your insurer) and you owe more than its current market value. If you are in the market for a vehicle, it’s always a good to discuss your insurance options with your agent before you buy anything.
Read more about auto insurance.
Read more about warranties and service contracts.

Special Investigations Unit hiring an Administrative Assistant

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is hiring a full-time, permanent Administrative Assistant 4 in our Special Investigations Unit (SIU), located in Tumwater. SIU investigates insurance fraud in Washington state and has the authority to conduct criminal investigations, arrest suspects and submit fraud cases to prosecutors. The unit works with federal, state and local law enforcement; insurance companies' investigators; and regulatory agencies. Read more about SIU's work.
This position is the principle administrative support for the SIU Director and works closely with a staff of seven criminal analysts and detectives to support of the unit’s mission to combat criminal insurance fraud.
Duties include:
  • Providing administrative support to the Director and the Special Investigations Unit.
  • Scheduling meetings, preparing agendas and taking meeting minutes.
  • Transcribing interviews.
  • Preparing spreadsheets, charts and graphs.
  • Managing and directing incoming assignments; monitoring deadlines and projects.
  • Coordinating travel for division employees.
  • Correspondence with citizens, stakeholders and partners.
  • Records retention and gathering records requested under the Public Records Act. 
  • Providing administrative support to various stakeholder groups, including the SIU Advisory Board, and other internal and external groups.
Applicants must be able to pass a fingerprint-based background check and must maintain confidentiality about criminal investigations.
The job closes on March 31. View the full job posting and application instructions.

View all of the jobs that are currently open at OIC.

Do you still need health insurance? Open enrollment ends March 31

Open enrollment for health insurance for this calendar year ends in less than two weeks. If you do not have a qualified health plan, you will be subject to a tax penalty when you file your 2014 taxes. The penalty for the first year is up to $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.
  • To be covered starting April 1, you must apply, select and pay for a health plan by 5 p.m. on March 23.
  • To be covered starting May 1, you must apply, select and pay for a health plan by 11:59 p.m. on March 31.
Those who qualify for Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) may continue to enroll throughout the year. There are also certain events that allow you to enroll or change your enrollment throughout the year. Read more about qualifying events.
If you qualify for free or subsidized health care, enroll through Washington Healthplanfinder at  People qualify for help if their income is less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013). If your income exceeds that threshold, you may wish to contact an insurance broker or agent directly.
Open enrollment for 2015 starts Nov. 15, 2014 and ends Feb. 15, 2015.