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. 

Be on the lookout for Medicare red flags

The Insurance Commissioner’s SHIBA program has received reports that some Washington Medicare subscribers are receiving calls from a person claiming they’re selling Medicare Supplement (Medigap) insurance. Medigap plans are sold by insurance companies and fill the gaps that Medicare parts A and B don’t cover, like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.
The reports are that a solicitor is cold-calling consumers and setting up an appointment to come to consumers’ homes to talk about Medigap coverage and costs. When the solicitor schedules the appointment, they ask for personal information, including Social Security numbers and consumers’ home addresses. A company representative shows up for the appointment without any identification or proof they represent the insurance company; during the meeting they ask consumers for money to buy additional coverage.
Whenever a salesperson calls you unsolicited, you should proceed with caution. Consumers should never give personal information over the phone, including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or anything that could be used to defraud you or steal your identity.
It’s also a good idea for consumers to find out if an agent is licensed to sell insurance in our state before meeting with them or giving them money. Consumers can also call the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 to verify someone is licensed to sell insurance in Washington or to report suspected Medicare or insurance fraud.
  • Read more about Medicare
  • Read more about SHIBA and how they help people navigate Medicare

Important information about landslide insurance

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in Snohomish County after a large landslide hit the town of Oso on March 22. Tragically, at least eight lives were lost and several people were injured. Searches underway for more than 100 people who are still missing. The Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s thoughts are with the families, emergency responders and communities affected by the landslide.

In addition to the human toll, the slide destroyed at least 30 homes and 20 other structures, and caused a backup in the Stillaguamish River, sparking concerns about flooding. The landslide destroyed an area of at least one square mile, including Highway 230 and parts of neighboring Darrington. FEMA announced today it will assist with the landslide response.

People who lost or suffered damage to property as a result of the landslide can contact the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer advocates with questions about their options at 800-562-6900 or online.

In general, homeowner policies do not cover landslides or land movements caused by rain runoff. That type of coverage would be covered by a separate policy. If you think you purchased such a policy—or you would like to–contact your insurance agent or broker.

Read more information about homeowner insurance and landslides.

Gov. Inslee has a webpage with information about the landslide and the state Emergency Management Division has a page with updates and resources.

Join the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer protection team!

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is recruiting to fill a Functional Program Analyst 3 position in the Consumer Protection Division at our Tumwater headquarters. This position supports our mission by advocating on behalf of consumers to ensure fair treatment by insurance companies and by educating the public on insurance matters.

The position researches and resolves consumer complaints involving health, life, annuity & disability (L&D) insurance and licensed carriers and responds to consumer inquiries regarding L&D insurance issues, including questions involving federal health care reform. This position staffs our consumer hotline four hours per day and spends the remaining time researching and resolving consumer complaints and then following up with consumers. Our consumer protection staff work with consumers and insurance professionals and also work heavily in our database, with some website content responsibilities.

In 2013, we received more than 5,000 consumer complaints and recovered more than $8 million related to insurance billings, refunds and various claim-handling issues.

Read more about this position or apply. This job closes on April 6.

If I have a child care business in my home, can my insurer cancel my homeowner policy?

An insurer cannot decline to issue a homeowner policy, cancel or fail to renew a homeowner policy for the sole reason that the customer operates a home-based child care, in accordance with state rules (WAC 284-30-700). However, insurers may exclude liability coverage for any liability that arises related to the child care business. People in Washington who operate home-based child care businesses should talk to an insurance agent or broker about seeking a separate business liability policy to insure themselves and their business in the event of a liability issue. Find a licensed agent or broker.

People who care for children in their homes typically require a license from the Department of Early Learning. Read more on DEL’s website.

People who run other home-based businesses should contact their insurance agent to find out what types of coverage they may need.

Read more about insurance and home-based businesses.

Balancing consumer protection, innovation is focus of new health insurance rules

Balancing consumer protection with innovation is the focus of the new rules under consideration for new health insurance plans that will be available in 2015.

The Insurance Commissioner’s office has been working on the health insurance network rules for more than four months. The process began soon after the emergence of what are called “narrow networks.” That’s the common reference now to health plans that don’t always include the doctors and hospitals that insurance companies typically contracted with in the past before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect this year.

While still providing access to a full range of medical providers, health insurers have said they have not contracted with some traditional doctors and hospitals because of the higher rates they charge for some services. It’s a key way that insurers have said they can keep premiums lower for consumers and still maintain comparable quality care – especially considering the often wide discrepancies in what providers charge for the same service.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler saw early on that consumers and providers needed more guidance in developing health plans for 2015. The new rules under consideration are heavily focused on providing more transparency – answering the common question: “Is my doctor and hospital in the network of the health plan I might buy?”

“Consumers have a right to know,” Commissioner Kreidler told the members of the Health Benefit Exchange at its monthly public meeting March 27. “It’s my job to ensure that consumers can access the care they need and that insurers live up to their promises.”

That hasn’t been as clear as it should have been through plans offered this year. The new rules are designed to give consumers more information on which to make choices in 2015.
The commissioner has heard from a wide range of interested parties, including insurance companies, doctors, consumer advocates, Indian tribes and more.

A public hearing on the rules is scheduled for April 22 in Olympia. They are set to take effect May 1, about the same time that insurers will begin proposing new plans. Considerable flexibility is built into the new rules to make sure that health plans for 2015 are given time to comply. The fact is, health insurers have been involved in the process for months. And much of what’s being asked for in the rules is already required.

The new rules are simply providing a formal and clearer roadmap for all to follow on behalf of consumers.

What’s the “individual mandate”?

Our consumer advocates have been getting a lot of questions about the individual mandate, which is the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is a federal law. In Washington, the last day to enroll in a health plan is March 31, only four days away.

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.

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.

With a few exceptions, people who do not purchase an ACA-compliant health insurance plan will pay a penalty when they file their 2014 federal income taxes. The penalty is 1 percent of your income or $95, whichever is greater. The penalty increases yearly through 2016, when the penalty will be the greater of 2.5 percent of your household income or $695 per adult and $347 per child. If you lacked coverage for part of the year, your penalty will be prorated.

There are exemptions to the penalty:
  • People who cannot afford coverage because the cost of premiums exceed 8 percent of their household income.
  • People whose household income is below the minimum threshold for filing a tax return.
  • People who are incarcerated.
  • Members of federally recognized tribes.
  • People who are eligible for care through the Indian Health Service.
  • People who live in the United States illegally.
  • People whose religious beliefs prohibit having health insurance and are recognized as such by the Social Security Administration.
  • People who belong to a health care sharing ministry.
  • People who experienced a health insurance coverage gap of fewer than three months.
  • U.S. citizens who live outside of the country for at least 330 days during a 12-month period. However, once they return to the U.S., they need to purchase health insurance within three months.
People must apply for an exemption to the individual mandate through the IRS. The IRS created a section on its website about the mandate, exemptions to it, and how to file.

How do I know if my health plan meets federal requirements?

More than half a million people enrolled for coverage through our state’s exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, before the 2014 enrollment ended (for most people) on March 31. Now the question consumers are asking is whether their plans meet federal requirements and therefore exempt them from paying the tax penalty for people who lack health insurance. You can read more about the tax penalty and exemptions to it on our March 28 blog post.
The Affordable Care Act requires people to have a plan that includes “minimum essential coverage.” The following types of plans meet that requirement:
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance, including self-insured plans, COBRA and retiree plans.
  • Plans purchased in the individual market, including a qualified health plan offered by Washington Healthplanfinder, our states’ health benefit exchange.
  • Medicare Part A coverage and Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Most Medicaid coverage.
  • Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Certain veterans health plans administered by the Veterans Administration.
  • Most types of TRICARE coverage for member of the military.
  • Coverage provided to Peace Corps volunteers.
  • Coverage under the Nonappropriated Fund Health Benefit Program.
  • Refugee Medical Assistance supported by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.
  • Self-funded health coverage offered to college students for plan or policy years that began on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later plan or policy years, sponsors of these programs may apply to HHS to be recognized as minimum essential coverage).
  • State high-risk pools for plans or policy years that began on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later plan or policy years, sponsors of these program may apply to HHS to be recognized as minimum essential coverage).
  • Other coverage recognized by the Secretary of HHS as minimum essential coverage.
There are circumstances that allow people to enroll in or change their health plan during 2014, called a special enrollment. Find out if you qualify for a special enrollment.

If you have questions about whether your plan meets the minimum requirements, you can contact our Consumer Advocates at 800-562-6900 or online.

OIC website redesigned for insurers, producers

Today, the Insurance Commissioner launched a redesigned industry user section of our website, the final phase in our website redesign that started in January 2013.

Two new sections—one for producers and one for insurers—enable visitors to navigate more quickly and easily to the information they need. We also improved navigation on mobile devices, updated the Producers and Insurers homepages, and converted our laws and rules page to an A-to-Z format. We worked with industry professionals to help us determine ways to make the site more usable and easy to navigate.

If you have bookmarks to pages that used to be available under the Industry Professionals tab, please update them with links to our new site.

We invite producers and insurers to submit feedback about our redesigned website. 

View the site at

Thank you to our SHIBA volunteers!

In honor of National Volunteer Week, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recognizes more than 400 people across Washington who volunteer their time and effort to help people access health care.

Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) provide free, unbiased counseling and outreach about Medicare and other health care choices. In 2013, SHIBA volunteers contributed nearly 86,000 hours to helping more than 54,000 citizens, representing $2 million in labor costs.

"During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the accomplishments of our dedicated volunteers and we recognize their contributions to their communities,” said Kreidler. “Volunteers are an invaluable resource and we appreciate their dedication and support.”

You can find a SHIBA office near you or learn about becoming a SHIBA volunteer.
SHIBA volunteers help sign up people for Medicare this year.

Planning for retirement: What is an annuity?

This week is National Plan for Retirement Week. Some people use annuities as part of a retirement strategy because they can provide a steady income after retirement, but they can be confusing.

Annuity basics
An annuity is a contract in which an insurance company agrees to make a series of payments in return for a premium (or premiums) that you have paid. Many consumers buy annuities to have a regular income after they retire. An annuity is an investment and shouldn’t be used to reach a short-term financial goal.

How annuities work
  • You pay either one premium or make payments for a set period of time in exchange for future income.
  • Annuities should increase in value over time and income taxes are deferred until you withdraw dividends. People who withdraw money before age age 59½ can be subject to a 10 percent income tax penalty
  • You can request to receive payments in a lump sum or in periodic fixed amounts.
  • A popular payout option is "lifetime income with 10 years certain." This means the annuity pays a monthly income for the life of the annuitant or for 10 years, whichever is longer.
  • Annuities also pay a death benefit.
There are three types of annuities:
  • Fixed annuities: Your money - minus any applicable charges - earns interest at rates set by the insurer, as specified in the annuity contract.
  • Variable annuities: The insurer invests your money - minus any applicable charges - in a separate account. The company invests your money in stocks, bonds or other investment funds you choose, based upon how much you're willing to risk. If the fund doesn't do well, you may lose some or all of your investment.
  • Equity-indexed annuities: The insurer offers a guaranteed minimum return, plus it offers a variable rate based on the return of a specific index. During the accumulation period, the insurer credits you with a return based on interest earned plus or minus changes in the index, subject to participation rates, caps, charges and other restrictions. The most commonly used index is Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Stock Price Index (S&P 500).
Buying an annuity
Washington state law requires applicants to undergo a suitability analysis before the sale or replacement of any annuity. The analysis includes an evaluation of your financial position, income needs and the cost of liquidating any assets. This can help you determine which annuity is right for you.

As with other major purchases, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare information for similar products from several companies. While you do your research, keep detailed records and get all quotes and key information in writing.

When you are ready to purchase an annuity, carefully review the contract with your agent or broker. Ask for an explanation of anything you don’t understand. Be sure you are aware of all of the terms and conditions such as surrender charges and/or cancellation penalties.

Washington state has a 10-day “free look” period. Washington consumers have 10 days after purchasing an annuity to cancel for a full refund.

Protect yourself
Some insurance agents or brokers use inappropriate sales practices in an attempt to take advantage of uninformed consumers. Red flags include relentless sales pitches that pressure you into buying a product quickly or a deal that seems too good to be true.

The best way to protect yourself is to research the agent and company you’re considering,
More information

Wildfire season starts today

Today is the official start of wildfire season in Washington state (hat tip to Tom Banse with KUOW). While forecasters expect a “normal” fire season, it’s a good idea for people who live in areas prone to or near areas that are prone to wildfires to take some precautionary steps.

Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • If you live in an area that could be near a wildfire, you should catalog your home’s belongings in case you need to make an insurance claim. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a printable home inventory checklist or you can try free iPhone/iPad or Android apps.
  • Check your policy to make sure damage from wildfires is covered. Some policies include some coverage for emergency shelter, such as a hotel, if a home is uninhabitable.
  • If you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires, read some tips to prepare and protect your home.
  • Review your policy to make sure you have enough coverage. Things like fine art, jewelry and computer equipment may have limited coverage under a standard policy. But you can buy special coverage that gives you more protection for those types of items, called a rider. Contact your insurance agent or broker to ask about supplemental policies.
  • You can help protect a rural home and limit the danger by clearing a natural fire break between your home and surrounding trees, brush and uncut fields. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has information on how to protect yourself and your home before, during and even after a wildfire.
  • Have an emergency kit and a family communication plan. Know the location of your valuable papers, including insurance policy and contact information, mementos and anything you can't live without, so you can evacuate with them, if needed.
  • Here's a list of recommended emergency supplies to keep on hand in the case of an evacuation.
  • Don’t forget about planning for your pets. has tips for pet owners.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources has the most recent fire information available on its website and through the @waDNR_fire Twitter feed.

March 2-8 is National Consumer Protection Week

You may have seen that this week is National Consumer Protection Week. The Washington state Insurance Commissioner has an entire unit devoted to helping consumers who experience trouble with their insurance policies or companies. In 2013, we responded to more than 5,000 inquiries from consumers and helped recover $8.4 million in insurance billings, refunds and other claims-related issues.
Our consumer advocates can help:
  • Answer questions about home, auto, health, life, annuities, business and other insurance. 
  • Understand your insurance rights, including your health insurance appeal rights and the process. 
  • Understand how health reform works. 
  • Look into complaints against insurance companies. 
  • Provide you with information about your shopping options. 
  • Verify if an agent, agency, or company is authorized to sell insurance in Washington state.
We also share information of interest to insurance consumers on this blog and through our social media channels. Many of our posts are generated by questions our consumer advocates receive from Washington citizens. Consumers can reach us by phone at 1-800-562-6900 and online via our web form. Read more about consumer advocacy at OIC.

Kreidler, other insurance commissioners meet with President Obama this morning

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler had an experience this morning that few people get--an hour with the President of the United States at the White House.

Kreidler shared that time with 43 other state insurance commissioners, whom the White House invited on short notice to discuss the progress of and the challenges ahead for the Affordable Care Act. The legislation is often referred to as President Barack Obama’s “signature” achievement during his tenure.

Vice President Joe Biden and key members of the White House staff also joined the discussion.

"It was a remarkable experience to spend an hour with the leader of the free world," Kreidler said. “The president was fully engaged.”

Key topics for the hourlong discussion were potential premiums for 2015, the adequacy of medical provider networks and changes at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees many of the national regulations of the Affordable Care Act. The agency is undergoing a change in leadership with the departure of former Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Kreidler said the president was scheduled to talk with representatives of the insurance industry in an afternoon meeting.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) shared details about the visit in a news release and also posted a photo from the nation's capital of the insurance commissioners who participated.

This morning, we shared a photo of Kreidler in front of the White House as our inaugural Instagram post.

Kreidler remembers former State Auditor Bob Graham

Former Washington State Auditor Bob Graham passed away this week at the age of 93. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler got to know Graham after he was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1976. At that point, Graham had been state auditor for 12 years.

“Bob was highly respected and dedicated to public service,” said Kreidler. “I always enjoyed interacting with him. He was a real gentleman and a professional. I give my condolences to Bob’s wife Lloydine and his children.”
Graham was state auditor for 28 years, from 1965 until 1993.  Read more about Graham’s life and service on the Secretary of State’s blog and The Olympian 

Did a medical provider refuse service based on your plan? We want to hear from you!

Our consumer advocates in recent weeks have heard from a handful of consumers that medical providers have refused to see them because they purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, our state’s health benefit exchange. The consumers reported a couple of scenarios:
  • They scheduled an appointment with a medical provider. The provider’s office later canceled the appointment because they say they are not accepting insurance that was purchased through the Exchange.
  • Consumers contact providers listed as being in their network to find out if new patients are being accepted, and are told yes. The provider’s office later calls the consumer and tells the consumer they aren’t accepting plans purchased through the Exchange. In most cases, the insurance plans are confirming the providers are in the plan’s network.
We’ve heard of this happening with several plans and in several areas of the state. If you experienced one of these scenarios or something similar, please contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online. We regulate insurance companies and we want to make sure consumers receive the services they are entitled to in their insurance policies. 

Career opportunity for a financial examiner

Do you have experience with auditing or accounting and want to work in the Olympia area? We are hiring a Financial Examiner 2 (Assistant Financial Analyst) position in our Company Supervision division at our Tumwater headquarters. Financial examiners review insurance companies' financial statements to make sure they are following state rules and laws that exist in part to make sure they remain financially solvent and able to serve Washington consumers. 
This is what the person in the job will do:
  • Examine and analyze insurance company and health carrier filings to discern financial condition, difficulties, trends, and compliance.
  • Read and interpret applicable laws, regulations, and standards to ensure analyses and examinations are appropriately conducted. 
  • Assess analysis-examination risk, materiality, and other matters by reviewing and analyzing regulated entity's history and OIC Priority Rating, biographical affidavits of its key staff, and qualifications of its management and accounting personnel, as well as current filings for the entity, prior analysis reports, and file information.
  • Prepare and complete analysis-examination procedures in accordance with accreditation standards.
  • Read and analyze the regulated entity’s filings, documents, and other information to assess the entity’s financial condition, statement assertions, and compliance with insurance laws, regulations, and standards.
  • Prepare analysis-examination reports for assigned regulated entities, including updating the risk assessment, profile summary, and supervisory plan.
  • Write correspondence to regulated entity personnel to obtain documents and information and to explain determinations.
  • Analyze Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) issuers' and other auxiliary lines entities' Annual Reports and accompanying additional documentation, audited financial statements, and IRS Form 990s (if applicable) for statutory compliance.
  • Other duties as assigned. 
We will start reviewing applications on May 2. Read more about the job and how to apply.

Consumer tip: Don’t toss notices from your lenders

If you get a notice in the mail from one of your lenders – whether it be auto, boat, home or any other item you are paying for with a loan – make sure you read it. Lenders can require you to prove the item they’ve paid for is insured against damage or loss with an auto, homeowner or other applicable policy.

If you fail to prove the item is insured, the lender has the right to apply its own insurance policy, called “force placed” or “vendor’s single interest (VSI),” to your loan. The policy doesn’t protect you against property loss or liability—its sole function is to pay the lender the loan balance if you default on the loan. These policies are very expensive, they are added to your loan balance and you pay interest on them. One consumer was charged $2,680 for a policy on a $15,000 loan—that’s nearly 18 percent of the loan, not counting the interest the consumer paid.

The good news is that lenders typically allow you to drop the policy once you prove you have your own insurance on the item.

Don’t get stuck with a huge insurance cost that could have been prevented. When you get notices in the mail from a lender, read them. 

If you have questions, contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or through our website.

OIC seeks innovator who wants to help implement ACA statewide

OIC has a unique job opening in our Rates and Forms Division as a Health and Disability Insurance Forms/Contracts Manager (WMS Band 3). The position reports to the Deputy Commissioner for Rates and Forms, which is the division that reviews insurance plans and rates.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone who wants to work on the cutting edge of Affordable Care Act implementation in Washington state. We need someone who can lead a team of expert staff; work closely with people in the division who review rates and provider networks; and who understands insurance and contracts. The person in this position needs to be innovative and adaptable.
Here are a few of the position’s duties, as outlined in the job announcement:
  • Serves as the statewide expert on health and disability forms filings.
  • Plans and directs the review and approval or disapproval of health and disability contracts submitted by regulated entities; analyzes filing data to discover complaint trends or patterns of unfair, inequitable or unlawful insurance practices; prepares files and recommends referral of such practices for enforcement action.
  • Attends and participates in assigned and agency training to enhance requisite skills and knowledge needed to supervise professional staff.
  • Represent the OIC on a local and national level, attending NAIC events, speaking on behalf of the agency, and providing leadership on work groups and task forces.
We are requiring:
  • A bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree.
  • Expert knowledge of insurance products.
  • Expert knowledge of the insurance code and related rules and case law related to insurance products.
  • Extensive experience analyzing contracts, and providing effective oral and written communication.
  • Five years' supervisory experience of professional-level staff.
The salary will depend on qualifications, with a maximum of $80,000 per year.
Read more about the job and how to apply. 

Health insurers' proposed 2015 rates due today

Today is the deadline for all health insurance plans that are sold in Washington to be filed with our office. All health insurers must file their individual and small group health plans and rates for plans sold both inside and outside the Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. The review process will likely continue through the summer.

The rates will be available to the public 10 days after the filing is determined to be complete by our office – most likely on May 10. Consumers can sign up to receive an email when the rates are posted on our website. You can select one just company or all of them. If you sign up before May 10, you will receive an email alert once the new proposed rates are posted. And you’ll get an email once we’ve made our decision.

We also have information about how rates are reviewed and frequently asked questions.

Unlicensed jewelry service contract company makes things right with OIC

Zale Delaware Inc., a company connected to Zales Jewelers, Gordon Jewelers and Piercing Pagoda, and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner recently agreed that Zale would pay $300,000 fine and more than $290,000 in unpaid premium taxes for unauthorized sales of service contracts for jewelry repairs. Companies pay a 2 percent premium tax on all service contracts, which is deposited into the state’s general fund. All disciplinary fines are also deposited into the state’s general fund.
Zale sold more than 425,000 jewelry service contracts worth $14.5 million to Washington consumers from 1999-2013 without being licensed. Washington state law requires that all service contract providers be registered with the Insurance Commissioner; the law took effect in 1999 as a way to protect consumers. Zale self-reported to our office that it was selling the contracts without being licensed, and it agreed to suspend further sales until it could comply with state law.

Like insurance companies, companies that sell service contracts assume a certain level of risk and it’s our job to make sure they are able to provide consumers the service they paid for when they purchase the contract.

Noteworthy in this case is that the company approached our office in order to comply with state law. Often, we find out about unlicensed service contract sales from consumer complaints. It is unusual for a company to approach us in the interest of following the law. Zale agreed to pay the fine and the premium tax within 30 days and is now licensed to sell service contracts in Washington.

Before you buy a service contract, you can make sure the company islicensed to sell contracts in Washington.