Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Obesity rankings, by state...

Just in time for lunch, a new report pegs Washington as the 28th fattest state in America, with more than 1/4 of the state's residents considered obese.

States with the worst rankings tended to be in the Southeast (Mississippi, where more than 1 out of every 3 people is obese, was the worst, followed by Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia and Louisiana.) the report was done by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The data is pretty worrisome, with several indicators suggesting that America's weight problems are getting significantly worse.

Here's a WebMD story that summarizes the findings and includes the ranking of the states.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Statewide Poverty Action Network recognizes Kreidler for work opposing credit scoring

Washington's Statewide Poverty Action Network has awarded Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler a "2010 Leadership Award" for his repeated efforts to ban the use of credit scoring by insurers.

At Kreidler's urging, state lawmakers in 2002 and then-Gov. Gary Locke approved some of the nation's strongest limits on the controversial practice. As a result, insurance companies in Washington cannot cancel or decide not to renew someone's coverage due solely to credit score. They also cannot use certain credit-related factors to deny coverage or set rates, such as the number of credit inquiries.

Nonetheless, most insurers today still use credit as a key factor in setting rates.

Kreidler maintains that the practice is inherently unfair and penalizes drivers, for example, due to factors that have nothing to do with how they drive. Earlier this year, he called for legislation flatly banning credit scoring by insurers. The bill, opposed by the insurance industry, did not pass.

"Nonetheless, profiling the fact that this practice inappropriately disadvantages people by income will continue to be a focus of this office," said Kreidler.

State & insurers launch new program to help Washington businesses below Howard Hanson Dam find flood coverage

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and more than two dozen insurance companies have launched a new program to help Green River Valley businesses struggling to find flood coverage.

The “Washington Flood Market Assistance Plan” will act as a matchmaker, pairing businesses needing coverage with insurers selling it. The Surplus Line Association of Washington has agreed to act as administrator of the plan.

Last year, concerns about potential flooding below the Howard Hanson Dam made it difficult for some area businesses to find adequate coverage. Kreidler worked with state lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire to get the law changed to allow this program.

“The Green River Valley is a key part of the state’s economy,” Kreidler said in a news release. “Companies must be able to find adequate coverage, both for flood damage and for business interruptions due to flooding.”

To date, 26 companies have volunteered to take part in the program, at Kreidler’s request. Businesses seeking coverage must apply through an agent or broker. For more information on the program, including a list of frequently-asked-questions (or, at this point, at least what we imagine will be asked), please see our Washington Flood Market Assistance Plan page.

If the voluntary program isn’t effective, the legislation also gives the insurance commissioner the power to compel companies to form a “joint underwriting association.” The joint underwriting association would act as an insurer of last resort.

“It remains my goal to resolve this on a voluntary basis if possible,” said Kreidler.

He’s also urging anyone in the potential flood areas – including homeowners and renters -- to strongly consider purchasing coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program.

For businesses, however, federal flood coverage is limited to $500,000 per building and $500,000 for contents. Also, the program doesn’t provide business-interruption coverage.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reuters: "U.S. scores dead last again in healthcare study"

Reuters reports this morning that "Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on health care, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday."

The report, put out by the Commonwealth Fund, includes data on health care spending by nation:
In 2007, health spending was $7,290 per person in the United States, more than double that of any other country in the survey.

Australians spent $3,357, Canadians $3,895, Germans $3,588, the Netherlands $3,837 and Britons spent $2,992 per capita on health in 2007. New Zealand spent the least at $2,454.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kreidler meets with President Obama and insurers

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler on Tuesday attended a White House meeting between President Barack Obama, cabinet members and about a dozen insurance company CEOs.
“President Obama certainly made one thing clear: Regardless of what you may hear from some people, the federal health care reform law will not be repealed,” said Kreidler. (For a timeline of what takes effect when, please see our Health Care Reform web pages.)

Kreidler was one of six state insurance commissioners at the private meeting, which was followed by a presidential speech about progress in implementing the health reform law.
“The president delivered a clear message to health insurers not to use these reforms as a way to artificially hike their rates,” said Kreidler. “And to make sure that doesn’t happen, he’s offering grants to state insurance departments, which scrutinize rate increases.”

For more details, please click here.

Washington man charged with insurance fraud; claimed his $33k collection of neckties was stolen

A Lynnwood, Wash. man has been charged with insurance fraud after claiming that car thieves had made off with his $33,000 collection of silk neckties.

Carlton H. Wopperer, 49, is scheduled to be arraigned on July 6, 2010 in Snohomish County Superior Court on two counts of insurance fraud.

Three times in 9 years, he claimed, thieves had stolen his collection of 212 silk neckties from his vehicle. But an investigation revealed that Wopperer had returned many of the ties within minutes of buying them.

“You can’t return a product, keep the receipt, and then claim that the product was stolen. That’s classic insurance fraud,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “And insurance fraud drives up the cost of premiums for everyone else.”

For more details on the case, please click here.
To report staged accidents, faked injuries, double-billing of insurers or other insurance fraud in Washington state, call the insurance commissioner’s Special Investigations Unit at (360) 586-2566 or email them at contactSIU@oic.wa.gov.

To report suspicious health insurance offers, Medicare fraud, or problems with agents or brokers, see http://www.insurance.wa.gov/fraud/report-fraud.shtml.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New and improved: An insurance "consumer toolbox"

We've recently improved our consumer page, which now has one-stop shopping for things like:
-Checking on an agent's license
-Seeing how financially healthy your health insurer is
-and comparing the number of complaints we get about each insurer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Consumer Direct Warranty Services in the news again

California's insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, today ordered two California men and several corporations to stop operating unlicensed insurance companies and "using deceptive and illegal telemarketing."

The order names Robert Lewis Chapman, James C. Sletner, and several corporations they own and manage, including SafeData Management Services Inc., Warranty Administration Services, Inc., Consumer Direct Warranty Services, Inc., and Warranty Administration Solutions, Inc.

All of those are familiar names here in Washington state, where we in February ordered the same individuals and companies to stop transacting unauthorized insurance here.

The companies were originally also ordered to turn over a complete list of their Washington service-contract customers, and to notify those customers about the order. (Here's a link to our order.) Consumer Direct has asked for a hearing on the matter. UPDATE: This portion of the order has been stayed for now -- see this partial stay order.)

Under Washington state law, the order notes, anyone selling unauthorized insurance in the state remains “individually liable for the performance of the contract and for the full amount of any loss sustained by an insured under such contract.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More than 15 percent of people are uninsured in U.S.

According to a new survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46.3 million people were uninsured in 2009 - up from 43.8 million in 2008. The number includes more than 6 million kids under 18.

(In case you're wondering: We've estimated that 13.5% of people in Washington state are uninsured).

Other key findings include:

•21 million people under 65 had public health plan coverage, translating to 21 percent of that population.

•14.4 million people over 65 and 37.7 million children had private insurance.

•62.9 million people under 65 had private insurance in 2009, down from 65.4 million in 2008.

•65.8 million over-65s had private health insurance, as did 55.7 million children.

•Nearly 30 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 lacked health insurance.

•Hispanics were the most likely to lack health insurance — 30.7 percent had none.

And here's some state specific information from the survey:

Nationally, 17.5% of persons under age 65 years lacked health insurance coverage at the time of interview in 2009. However, approximately one in four persons under age 65 in Florida and Texas, and one in five persons under age 65 in California and Georgia, lacked coverage at the time of interview. By contrast, rates of noncoverage at the time of interview in Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin were lower than the national average.

Nationally, 8.2% children in 2009 lacked coverage at the time of interview, but rates were higher in Florida (13.1%), Indiana (14.0%), and Texas (16.9%).

Nationally, 37.7% of children had public health care coverage. Among the states examined for this report, public coverage for children ranged from 24.6% in New Jersey to 43.0% in Washington.

Nationally, 62.9% of persons under age 65 had private coverage. Among the states examined, private coverage rates for persons under age 65 ranged from 75.2% in Massachusetts to 52.2% in Texas. Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin had rates above the national average.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Grandfathered" health plans -- what's it mean? what are the rules for them?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today put out this detailed fact sheet about "grandfathered" health plans, which wouldn't have to comply with some elements of federal health reform.

The document details what benefits ALL health plans (grandfathered or not) must offer, starting Sept. 23, 2010. Among these: No lifetime limits.

HHS has also come up with a new regulation to prevent health plans from using grandfathered status as a shield to avoid providing consumer protections. The fact sheet has more details on this.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What about dental insurance?

A new report from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics reveals that 45 million people don't have dental coverage. The new health reforms require people to buy health insurance in 2014, but there are no such requirements for dental coverage.

According to Reuters:

Overall most non-elderly people who already have private health coverage also have a dental policy, but roughly 70 percent of those who have to buy their own health plan do not, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Under the health reforms passed in March, adults must buy health insurance or pay a fine starting in 2014. The law does not require them to buy other types of coverage like dental or vision, although some comprehensive health care plans include the additional coverage.

While health plans must cover at minimum services like emergency care and prescription drugs, they do not have to cover oral care for adults. Dental care for children is required.

One of the biggest barriers to getting coverage if your employer doesn't offer dental insurance, is finding an individual plan. We've just updated some information on our consumer pages to include a list of individual dental carriers that we know are currently selling plans - and of course, we've included a disclaimer that the list may not be comprehensive, it's just who we know about.

And here are the key findings of the CDC's report.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another free online game, this one related to insurance and climate change

Again, here's the disclaimer: Probably not a good idea to do this at work. But a few days after we mentioned one insurer's free online racing game, one of our Twitter followers pointed us to another insurance-related free game on the web.

Financial company Allianz and the World Wildlife Fund have apparently teamed up to create a strategy-based game in which you're a CEO struggling to reduce the company's carbon footprint. You make a series of choices -- offshore wind turbines? microinsurance? etc. -- and see how those choices pencil out.

Monday, June 7, 2010

HHS announces $51 million in grants to improve insurance rate reviews

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced that it's making $51 million in grants available to states as part of a new $250 million program "to create and strengthen insurance rate review processes."

From HHS' press release:
“This is an important step in putting consumers back in control of their health care,” said (HHS) Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius. “These new grants will help states protect consumers and small employers by holding insurers accountable for unreasonable insurance rate increases that have made coverage unaffordable for many American families."
Here in Washington state, the insurance commissioner's office has some rate review authority already, and it can make a significant difference. In Washington personal auto insurance from 2000 through 2008, for example, the rates we approved were a total of $217 million lower than what the insurers had originally requested. For homeowners' coverage, the savings over the same period was nearly $37 million.

Job opening: We're looking for an investigations manager in our Tumwater office

The Washington state insurance commissioner's office is looking for an investigations manager to oversee the investigation staff in our legal affairs division. They investigate insurance companies, insurance agents and brokers, and (increasingly, it seems) unlicensed "insurers" offering products illegally.

The job includes day-to-day oversight of the unit, prioritizing resources and caseload and monitoring trends to pro-actively protect consumers. The requirements include at least 10 years experience as an investigator or equivalent, (although some of that time can be substituted with college-level coursework in a related field).

Pay is $80,000 to $85,000, depending on experience.

For many more details, including a job application, please see this job announcement. The application period closes June 21st.
Also, if you want to learn of any future openings as soon as we post them, you can sign up for our jobs RSS feed, which is located here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Job opening: Financial examiner in our Seattle office

We're looking for a financial examiner to join our company supervision team in Seattle. From the job description:
As an examiner-in-charge (EIC), this position plans and conducts the field and/or in-office financial examinations of insurance companies.
Among the job's primary duties:
Plans, conducts, and leads in-field/in-office financial examinations of insurance companies and prepares/coordinates formalized examination reports. Examines/analyzes annual financial statements, actuarial opinions, management decisions and analyses, audited financial statements, holding company statements and other sources of information to discern financial conditions, difficulties, trends, statutory compliance, accuracy and completeness. Reviews and assesses the work and findings of other examiners, staff and experts.
Required qualifications include a CPA license, designation as an accredited financial examiner or certified financial examiner. See the link below for more details.

The pay range is $4,770 to $6,257 a month. Deadline for applying is June 30.

For more details, including a job application, please see our recruitment page.

Also, if you want to learn of any future openings as soon as we post them, you can sign up for our jobs RSS feed, which is located here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

$83.9 million for health information technology: state-by-state list of recipients

In health care reform, there's nearly universal agreement that a long-term fix means finding ways to bring down the fast-rising surge in costs. (We're involved with some of those efforts; here's a good overview of some of the proposals and challenges.) One of the key strategies is to harness the efficiencies of technology. Why? See photo above.

On the federal front, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services -- the primary agency implementing the nuts and bolts of health care reform -- today announced nearly $83.9 million in grants to help networks of health centers shift to electronic health records. Combined the networks provide care for nearly 19 million patients.

Here's HHS' announcement, which includes a state-by-state list of grant recipients.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Insurer launches free online racing game to promote responsible driving

Don't try this at work, but car insurer Liberty Mutual has released a free online racing game that seeks to encourage safe driving. It has a single-player mode, or up to six players can compete against each other online. From the company's press release:
“In designing the 2099 game, we posed the question: what would responsible driving look and feel like in the future?” said Greg Gordon, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing at Liberty Mutual. “Certainly, we envision our cars being more high-tech. On the other hand, there is one element of driving that will never change – an area we wanted to spark awareness around – the importance of staying safe behind the wheel.”
The company says the game "is designed for people who enjoy taking 15-30 minutes from their day to play free online games."

What's insurance got to do with it? The game rewards safer drivers by giving them more insurance, which can then be used to repair the car and keep going.

Insurance news and summaries

The Washington post has a rundown on four of the top officials in the newly formed Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

Colorado's 9News has a story about a local man whose homeowner's coverage was dropped after 42 years, after five claims in 13 years, three of them for less than $500. All involved wind and hail damage.

Insurance Journal says that the National Flood Insurance Program, which lapsed at midnight Monday night, will be suspended until June 7 or later.

Asurion is reportedly planning to offer coverage for iPhones at $13.99/month, with a deductible of $99-$199.

Neal T. Gooch has been sworn in as the new insurance commissioner for Utah.

The Seattle Times has a poll story suggesting that health reform critics would rather modify federal health reform, instead of repeal it.

The Vancouver (WA) Columbian has a story about health care reform in Washington state.

Finally, there's a bizarre story out of Guatemala -- no insurance angle yet, although we suspect there will be -- about a giant sinkhole that swallowed a building. It's worth the click just to see the aerial photo of the thing.