Thursday, December 30, 2010

Consumer toolkit, online complaint filing, agent lookup: New tools for the New Year

We're rolling out new consumer tools for the new year, including an easy way to look up past violations and complaints against insurers and agents.
The insurance commissioner’s website now includes a “consumer toolkit” that offers:

• Easy-to understand information on different types of insurance.

• Online filing – and tracking – of complaints against an insurance company.

• Online filing of complaints against an insurance agent or broker.

• And a new system to look up contact information, licensing history, past violations and consumer complaints against agents or companies.

The agency also continues to expand its website and its social media presence, including a new page on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Job opening: Financial examiner

We're looking for a person to fill a financial examiner 3 position in our company supervision division, which is located in Seattle. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday.

The successful applicant will plan, conduct, and lead in-the-field financial examinations of insurance companies and other entities that our agency regulates. Duties include:
Examines and analyzes annual financial statements, actuarial opinions, management discussions and analyses, audited financial statements, holding company statements, quarterly financial statements, financial ratios, and other sources of information to discern financial condition, difficulties, trends, statutory compliance, accuracy, and completeness.

For more details, please see the job announcement.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stranded traveler? Here are some things to check

The weather on the East Coast has clearly scrambled plans for a lot of travelers this holiday; here are some tips that might help as you sort out your plans for getting home.

If you're wondering what your rights are, do an online search for the name of your airline and the words "contract of carriage." (Here, for example, is a summary of United's.) This is your contract with the carrier. If you feel they're violating it, you can file a complaint here. The bad news: Travel experts say that airlines generally aren't obligated to provide meals or a hotel if the problem is weather-related.

Also, if you used a credit card to buy the ticket, check with your credit card company. Cards come with a variety of perks, and you may have trip coverage without knowing it. Mastercard, for example, offers many cardholders reimbursement for lost or delayed baggage and trip cancellation insurance, as long as the tickets were paid for with an eligible MasterCard card.

For general information on travel insurance, see our page on this topic, which spells out the types of coverage and what they mean, in plain language. We're not trying to sell you anything; we're the state agency that regulates insurance in Washington state.

Lastly, here's the list of toll-free numbers for airlines.

Good luck.

Tool to compare insurance companies by the number of complaints

One of the most-used features of our website is our "Complaint Comparison Tool," a free and simple online tool that lets you compare the number of complaints filed by consumers against different insurance companies.

The information's broken down by year and by type of insurance (health, life, homeowners, auto, etc.). It also compares the number of complaints to an insurer's market share, which makes for easy apples-to-apples comparisons with other companies.

Take a look. We've posted 5 years' worth of data, and should be posting more soon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Job opening: Chief market analyst

Our office is looking for a chief market analyst to fill an opening at our Tumwater office.

The person will manage staff performing market analysis, and help ensure that companies are acting within the scope of their license and are complying with laws and regulations.

Here's the job listing, which has much more detail about qualifications, salary, etc.

The critical part: Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2010.

Also, here's a handy online tool from that can e-mail you information about any job openings at state agencies, universities, etc.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We're expanding our social media presence

As a small agency with a broad consumer-protection mission, one of our hardest jobs is simply getting the word out to consumers that we can help them. Increasingly, we're turning to social media tools to help spread the word.

In the summer of 2009, we launched this blog, which is getting thousands of visitors a month. Shortly thereafter, we set up a Twitter feed, which we believe is now the second-largest among state insurance departments nationwide. From what we can tell, the blog tends to attract consumers Googling around for information. Our Twitter followers tend to be industry folks: agents, brokers and insurers.

Now we've launched an agency Facebook page. We're hardly the first Washington state agency to do so (Here's the list, put together by the good people at, but surprisingly few insurance departments are using this tool. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where to look if you can't afford health coverage

We've put together a list of resources, suggestions and alternatives for folks who cannot find affordable health coverage. Our "can't afford health care coverage" page includes links and information about:
  • community clinics and local free clinics,
  • state-offered health coverage,
  • free cancer screenings
  • hospital charity care
  • dental exams and treatment
  • and specific programs for certain diseases or disabilities.

Friday, December 17, 2010

High wind warning for eastern Puget Sound

The National Weather Service is forecasting gusts of up to 60 miles per hour tonight and Saturday in the east Puget Sound lowlands, which includes Bellevue, Gold Bar, Enumclaw, North Bend and Buckley. The good news is that those are the gusts; the wind will generally be 20-30 miles per hour in the area.

Wet soil and high winds often mean tree damage, so here's our ever-popular winter storm guide, with common questions about insurance and storm damage.

Insurance survey ranks Olympia as the safest mid-sized U.S. city in America; a dozen other Washington cities also score well

Farmers Insurance Group has released its seventh annual list of the safest cities in America.

Scoring highest among mid-sized cities: Olympia, Wash. Also doing well: Seattle/Bellevue/Everett, Bellingham, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, Spokane, Bremerton-Silverdale, Wenatchee, and Mount Vernon-Anacortes. (Some areas are grouped into single statistical areas.)

How do they decide? Here's what their press release says:
The rankings, compiled by database experts at, took into consideration crime statistics, extreme weather, risk of natural disasters, housing depreciation, foreclosures, air quality, terrorist threats, environmental hazards, life expectancy and job loss numbers in 379 U.S. municipalities.

Case closed: Man who claimed $33k tie collection had been stolen pays the money back, pleads guilty

A Lynnwood man who claimed that thieves had repeatedly made off with his collection of more than 200 silk neckties has paid back more than $33,000 and pleaded guilty to two counts of making a false insurance claim.

Under a diversion agreement, the felony charges will be dropped from his record if he complies with the agreement.

Carlton H. Wopperer, 50,  was charged with two counts of insurance fraud in Snohomish County Superior Court in July. Last week, he paid restitution of $33,370.67 and signed the diversion agreement.

Three times in 9 years, Wopperer claimed, thieves had stolen his collection of 212 silk neckties from his vehicle. But an investigation by the state insurance commissioner's office revealed that Wopperer had returned many of those ties within minutes of buying them.

On Jan. 5, 2009, Wopperer told the Mill Creek Police Department that his vehicle had been broken into while parked at a greeting card store. He said that four plastic containers containing 212 of his silk neckties had been stolen. He said that he’d taken the ties to a quilt shop to see about having them sewn onto a quilt for display.

Wopperer purchased replacement ties from Nordstrom, Butch Blum, Barneys New York and Mario’s of Seattle, submitting the receipts to his insurer. His insurer, PEMCO Insurance, paid him $33,370 under the terms of a provision allowing for replacement cost of stolen items.

Six months later, on June 9, 2009, Wopperer reported a very similar crime. He told the Everett Police Department that his vehicle had been broken into while he was moving. The 212 replacement ties that he’d purchased following the January theft had been stolen, he said. He subsequently filed an insurance claim for approximately $35,000.

But a PEMCO adjuster, checking with the retailers, learned that most of the ties purchased in January had been returned almost immediately. PEMCO denied Wopperer’s claim and reported the case to Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s Special Investigations Unit. State investigators interviewed store employees, documented the paper trail and referred the case to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office.

(The investigation also revealed that there had been a third claim. Nine years earlier, on June 19, 2000, Wopperer told the Lynnwood Police Department that his collection of 212 silk ties had been stolen from his vehicle while parked at a mall. His insurer at the time paid his $16,900 claim.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Individual plan open enrollment for kids ends Dec. 15

If you want to buy an individual health plan for your child this year, or add your child to your individual plan, or if you’re an emancipated minor looking for an individual health plan, the 2010 open enrollment ends today. Kids still can get coverage through the Washington Health Insurance Pool and, if they qualify, from the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan.

We'll announce enrollment options for 2011 in the next few weeks.

New consumer protections under the Affordable Care Act prevent all health plans from discriminating against children because of a pre-existing condition. However, special enrollment periods are allowed. Washington state’s 2010 individual plan open-enrollment period was Nov. 1-Dec.15. During this time, children under age 19 could enroll in an individual health plan without having to take a health screen.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler created the special open enrollment period through a rule. After today, children under age 19 can get coverage through the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP), or if they qualify, through the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP-WA). To enroll in PCIP-WA, you must have been uninsured for at least six months and have a pre-existing medical condition. There are some exceptions where parents can apply for coverage anytime in the individual market, such as the birth or adoption of a child or if a child or the parent:

■is no longer eligible for a state program.
■loses coverage due to a divorce.
■loses employer-sponsored coverage.
■moves and their plan is not available in where they live.

If you have questions about how to find health insurance or if you need help understanding your rights, call us at 1-800-562-6900 or read our health insurance page.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wind damage and insurance

High winds swept through western Washington last night, with peaks of 70 mph in Hoquiam, 62 at Alki Point, 54 at McChord Field and 43 in Puyallup. (Here's a National Weather Service map of the winds and list of other cities' wind speeds.)

Power was knocked out for thousands of people, according to the Seattle Times, and there were downed trees throughout the area: 3 trees fell on one brick home in Seattle, a falling tree killed a woman in her mobile home in Kitsap County, and firefighters in Snohomish County freed a man trapped in his home by a fallen tree.

All of which brings us back to a frequent topic this time of year: winter storms and insurance. We've posted a long list of questions and answers online, including things like:

-Is your car covered if tree limbs fall on it?
-Will insurance pay to clean up all that tree debris in your yard? (Sorry; no.)
-What if your boat in the marina sank in the high winds?
-What if the power surge killed your TV?

...and much, much more. Take a look, and if you have questions or are having trouble getting a claim paid -- and you're a Washingtonian -- call us at 1-800-562-6900. We're the state agency that regulates insurance in Washington state; we'll try our best to help you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Flooding and insurance: What to do

We're starting to get calls and emails from folks who sustained flood damage from this weekend's heavy rains. Here's some advice about what you can do if you're trying to clean up:

-Document the loss. Take photos, notes, video, etc.
-Contact your insurer as soon as possible. Be aware that standard homeowners coverage does not cover flood damage. But you may have flood coverage without knowing it -- in flood-prone areas, it's often required in order to qualify for a mortgage.
-Mitigate the damage as best you can. Get furniture and belongings up out of the water if possible. Shovel or squeegee mud and water out. Start drying things out.
-Create a paper trail. If you rent a pump, save the receipts. If your electrical system's damaged and you have to move to a motel temporarily, save those receipts.
-Where practical, avoid throwing out damaged items. The adjuster may want to see them.

Also: Standard flood coverage generally doesn't cover basement improvements, like finished walls or floors, or furniture or personal belongings in a basement. It does, however, cover essential equipment like your furnace and water heater.

Winter storm update: Flood insurance

Heavy rains over the weekend raised rivers high throughout the region, but the storms this morning began moving to the southeast. Many rivers in the region, according to FEMA, crested Sunday night, with longer rivers cresting Tuesday or Wednesday.

Our agency's particularly interested in south King County's Green River Valley, where we've set up what's called a "market assistance plan" to help businesses find flood insurance coverage. According to FEMA, the amount of rain falling in that area "is not expected to be of concern for Howard Hanson Dam operations or for flooding on the lower Green River Basin."

Still, this is probably a good time for a reminder: Contrary to what many people think, standard homeowners coverage and business insurance policies do not cover damage from floods. For flood protection, you generally have to buy a separate flood insurance policy. If your property is in a flood hazard area, you'll probably be required by your lender to have this coverage.

Fortunately, flood coverage is widely available through the National Flood Insurance Program. For more on that, and a link to an easy site to check your property's flood-risk profile, see our flood page.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A plain-language guide to Washington state insurance law

For quite a while, one of our staffers has been periodically maintaining two plain-language guides to Washington's lengthy insurance laws. One's for life and health plans, the other's for property and casualty policies.

We've used these as a staff resource for years, and figured it might be helpful to post it online for anyone to use. Trying to find the insurance laws about emergency medical services? Think you've been unfairly discriminated against? Have detailed questions about life insurance or long term care policies?

Take a look, and feel free to bookmark them.

(Of course, we'd also be happy to sell you a printed copy of the state's insurance laws, for $20-$25 each. But the web versions are so much easier to search. And free.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Distinct Advantage Administrative Services ordered to stop selling illegal vehicle service contracts in Washington state

Our office has ordered a Federal Way, Wash.-based company to stop selling unauthorized vehicle service contracts in Washington state.

The order names Distinct Advantage Administrative Services, LLC, company principal Michael Phelps and former insurance agent Thomas L. Ross. Ross is a former Washington insurance agent whose license was revoked in March 2003. Nonetheless, he began marketing Distinct Advantage service contracts around October 2009 as an "agent" for the company.

None of the three are registered with Washington as a service contract provider.

Distinct Advantage sold at least 37 vehicle service contracts, totalling $26,468, through 6 car dealers. The contracts were not approved for sale in Washington. The forms state that Distinct Advantage is insured by Colonial American Casualty and Surety Co., but Colonial American has no record of any affiliation with Phelps or his company.

Here's a link to the full order.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Des Moines insurance agent charged with multiple counts of first-degree theft

Brenda MacLaren-Beattie, a longtime insurance agent in Des Moines, Wash., has been charged with first-degree theft for allegedly selling fake insurance to oral surgeons in Washington and Oregon.

An investigation by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office found that MacLaren-Beattie, 67, sold thousands of dollars in fake business-insurance policies, often issuing counterfeit certificates of insurance to doctors and clinics.

She was arraigned last week in King County Superior Court. She faces 14 counts of first-degree theft, totaling $41,729 in payments from 11 clinics for non-existent coverage.

The fictitious policies were for business owners’ general liability insurance, rather than professional liability/medical malpractice. General liability insurance typically covers things like slip-and-fall accidents, employee theft, and damage to rented property.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Health insurance rates, by state

Update: (6/20/2013): Here's information on the latest state-by-state breakdown of health insurance premiums and deductibles. And here's information on the rate filings we're getting for 2014.

Here's the original post:

The Commonwealth Fund has put together an interesting state-by-state breakdown of private-employer health insurance premiums and deductibles over the past 6 years.

The upshot: premiums for businesses and their employees rose 41 percent, while per-person deductibles jumped 77 percent. (Continue those trends out to 2020, and an average premium for family coverage will be more than $23,000.) The report also looks at the potential for federal health reform to reduce that cost growth.

This chart shows employer premiums as a percentage of median household income for people under age 65:

In Washington state, the cost of premiums rose 38 percent between 2003 and 2009, with family coverage costing an average of $12,758 here last year.

How's that compare to everyone else? About in the middle. In a list of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., from highest family premiums to lowest, we come in 28th. (The U.S. average premium for family coverage: $13,027.) Arkansas ($10,969) came in with the lowest rates; Massachusetts ($14,723) with the highest. Oregon's ($12,783) are slightly higher than Washington's.

WA insurance commissioner rejects new Regence rate increase

From a news release our office issued this morning:

After several requests for additional information, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has formally rejected requests to change the rates of individual health plans offered by Regence BlueShield, Regence BlueShield of Oregon and Asuris NW Health (Regence).

The proposed rates were scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2011. Regence has the right to appeal the decision.

Regence BlueShield and Asuris requested 3.7 percent and Regence BlueShield of Oregon requested 4.9 percent.

“I’m disappointed and frustrated that I’ve had to take this step, but Regence’s policyholders are my top priority, said Kreidler. “They’re counting on me to review the rates and make sure they’re justified. Regence failed to make its case.”

See the link above for more information, including links to Regence's rates.

Our North American Dealer Co-Op order -- and what it means if you're a customer

In October, many consumers across Washington received notices from the North American Dealer Co-op (NADC). Our office ordered NADC to send out those notices.

Here’s the background: Washington car dealers would sell people vehicle service contracts, offering a money back guarantee as an incentive to buy them. If you didn’t use the vehicle service contract after a certain period of time and met other conditions, you were promised your money back.

NADC, in essence, insured that money-back guarantee. (The service contracts themselves are a separate product, and are NOT affected by our order. More on that below.) In 2007, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told the company that they were acting as an unauthorized insurer in Washington state. The company disputed that; a hearing was held and the commissioner’s decision was upheld.

In October 2010, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee affirmed the order, which requires NADC to do the following things:

-Stop offering the program to any Washington auto dealers.

-Send a copy of the order to all member dealers.

-Send a copy to all Washington consumers who’d bought an NADC auto dealer extended service contract reimbursement guarantee.

-Tell consumers that should they file a valid claim against that guarantee when their extended service contract expires, it will be honored.

Here’s the critical thing to know: The underlying vehicle service contract should still be in effect. Those service contracts are a different product, covering repairs to the car. Those contracts are not affected by this order.

Our order does, however, require NADC to honor all valid money-back guarantee claims made for unused service contracts under NADC’s money-back guarantee offer.

If you’re a Washingtonian and have questions or concerns that NADC’s improperly denying your money-back claim, contact us at 1-800-562-6900.

Consumers can also contact:

North American Dealer Co-Op
ATTN: Claims Department
1661 Wadsworth Blvd.
Lakewood, CO 80214

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tacoma woman pleads guilty to first-degree theft charges in insurance scam

A Tacoma woman whom repeatedly claimed to have slipped and fallen in grocery stores has pleaded guilty to first-degree theft.

Brenda J. Johnson, 50, claimed to have fallen in two different stores within about 15 minutes. She said she was near a check stand at a Tacoma Safeway store on Sept. 18, 2009 when she slipped on some liquid and fell, injuring her wrist and ribs.

On the same day at about noon, she said, the same thing happened to her in the frozen food aisle of a Tacoma Fred Meyer store. She filed claims with both stores, showing medical care and prescription drug receipts totalling more than $5,500.

A subsequent investigation by Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's Special Investigations Unit found that she had submitted virtually identical medical receipts to each store, including an emergency room report missing some pages. Documents obtained through a search warrant indicated that the treatment was unrelated to a fall at either store.

The investigation also found that Johnson had filed at least five auto-accident medical claims and at least half a dozen slip-and-fall injury claims.

On Nov. 22, Johnson pleaded guilty in Pierce County Superior Court to: $6,017 in restitution, 40 hours community service, and $1,000 in court fees and costs.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Give us your opinion on our website...

We're looking for feedback on our official website, We're trying to make the site easier to understand and easier to use.

If you can spare a couple of minutes to give us your input, we'd much appreciate it. Just click on the link above and look for the "feedback" tab on the left. It's orange, and hard to miss.