Monday, February 28, 2011

Insurance commissioner: Premera is "stonewalling" on public disclosure of rate information

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler today issued an open letter to health insurance consumers, calling for public disclosure of health insurers' rate requests.

"This is a critical week of the legislative session," Kreidler wrote. "Our biggest battle is still underway -- ending the secrecy of health insurance rates."

Under current law, the insurance commissioner's office is barred from disclosing virtually all the information submitted by insurers to justify health insurance rate requests. Kreidler wants to release those documents to the public, so they can see what’s driving health rates and comment on rate requests. Oregon and nearly a dozen other states have similar policies already.

Two of the state’s largest health insurers – Regence BlueShield and Group Health Cooperative – agree that rate information should be transparent. But a third – Premera Blue Cross – is balking, and only wants insurers to see the information once rates have been decided.

"I'm deeply troubled that Premera isn't willing to let you -- and their own policyholders -- see what's really driving health care premiums," Kreidler wrote, adding that he hopes they'll change their mind and help "put an end to the pointless secrecy of health insurance rates."

"We all know that health insurance rates have been rising dramatically in recent years," he wrote. "I believe that the people paying the premiums deserve to see why."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pet insurance tips

We're hearing more from consumers about pet insurance, which will come as no surprise to anyone who's paid a vet bill lately.

To help, we put together a pet insurance tips page, with advice on:
-what to look for when comparing coverage
-how to find out how many complaints have been made about a pet insurer
-and questions to ask (such as "Do you give discounts for multiple pets?")

Job openings: market analyst and market conduct examiner

We have a couple of job openings:

Senior Market Conduct Examiner: Among other tasks, this person will review and analyze insurance company records and procedures, including advertising, agency activity, complaint/grievance procedures, corporate structure, rate and form filings, provider networks, underwriting and claim administration. The application period ends March 2 at 5 p.m.

Senior Market Analyst: This person will plan, coordinate and perform market analysis of insurers and other regulated entities, reviewing company data statements and assisting in the design of audit programs. Applications are due by March 9 at 5 p.m.

The links have much more information about duties, qualifications, education, etc., as well as information on how to apply.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Car accident? How to file an insurance claim

Lots of snow, packed snow and ice on roads in Puget Sound this morning, which likely means a lot of fender benders. Here are some tips on filing an insurance claim and key information to know.

First: try to warn oncoming traffic, if it can be done safely. Give reasonable aid to the injured. Call police and, if necessary, an ambulance. If property damage exceeds $700 -- which is very often the case -- you must notify law enforcement.

Then: call your insurer. They can start the claims process and talk you through the details.

Who was at fault? Insurance adjusters typically gather information from the drivers and passengers, any witnesses, and accident reports filed with the state patrol or local law enforcement. If fault isn't clear, adjusters may decide that the fault is shared between drivers.

Which auto body shop to go to? In Washington state, unless you signed a contract with an insurer to take your car only to a specified repair shop, you can choose where to take it. But the shop still needs to work with the insurer to agree on a price. If they don't, and the car's repaired, you may be responsible for costs not covered by the insurer.

What if my car was totaled? We get this question all the time, and have a lot of information available about how to determine the vehicle's value (be ready to negotiate), how to keep your damaged vehicle, etc.

Check if your policy -- or the at-fault driver's -- covers "diminished value." This is the difference between the value of an undamaged vehicle and what it's worth after repairs are made.

Rental car? If the other driver was at fault, his or her insurer will negotiate with you for rental car payment. If you were hit by an uninsured driver, your insurance may pay for a rental.

Finally, what's "subrogation?" Subrogation allows your insurer to recover its costs from the person legally responsible for the accident. In other words, they seek reimbursement from the at-fault person.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter storm watch -- and info on how to file auto insurance claims

A winter storm watch is in effect from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning for much of western Washington, with snow accumulations of up to 6 inches possible.

Anyone who lives in Puget Sound knows that much-feared snowstorms sometimes turn out to be, well, just more rain. But if this one turns out to be real, and west-siders are trying to drive around in it, here's a link to keep handy. It's our page about how auto insurance claims work -- diminished value, repairs using aftermarket parts,  rental cars, deciding who's at fault, etc.

Also: Many school districts in Washington state use to put out information on school closures.

Drive carefully.

Friday, February 18, 2011

White Swan fire victims: We may be able to help you with insurance claims

On Saturday, a wind-whipped blaze tore through the town of White Swan, southwest of Yakima, torching 18 homes and leaving 120 people homeless.

If you're one of those families and you had insurance, our office may be able to help. We're the state agency that regulates insurance in Washington state, and we have a toll-free consumer hotline where analysts can help any Washingtonian with insurance questions or problems.

If claims are wrongly denied or delayed, we can contact insurers on your behalf and try to resolve the situation quickly.Call us at 1-800-562-6900 or send an e-mail to

If you'd like to help the White Swan families, MSNBC has put together a list of local donation sites. Any Bank of America branch can also accept donations in the name of the "White Swan Relief Fund."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Important note to agents, brokers, insurers and insurance educators

Our office recently adopted new rules that  affect licensees (like agents and brokers), insurance companies, and people who provide insurance continuing education and pre-licensing education.

Under these new rules, licensing must be done online. Licensees must provide a valid e-mail address, which will be the point of contact for all communication from our office, including renewal notices. We will no longer be printing and mailing licensing documents, such as appointments, affliations, etc.

Here's the timeline:

  • For licensees (like agents and brokers, which are now known as producers), renewals and applications must be done online starting June 1, 2011.

  • For insurance companies, new appointments, appointment renewals and appointment terminations must be done online starting May 1, 2011.

  • For insurance education providers, all education courses submitted for our approval must be sent in electronic format (such as an e-mail attachment), starting Feb. 28, 2011.
For more details, please see our "new online licensing rules" page.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Job openings

We have three jobs -- two non-permanent positions, and one project position funded by a federal grant -- that we're trying to fill:

  • Communications Consultant 4: This is a project position funded by federal grant dollars from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project is expected to end on Oct. 15, 2011. The person will work with our consumer protection staffers to develop and manage communication strategies, techniques and tools. The work includes a variety of projects, all of which involve translating complicated health insurance information into materials that can be understood by an average consumers. For more information, see the job listing. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 28, 2011.

  • Health Insurance Advisor 1 - Regional Trainer (non-permanent): We're looking for someone who's bilingual in Korean and English to help provide training and technical assistance to volunteer health insurance benefit advisors in Clallam, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties. For details, here's the job listing. Note: The application period ends Friday afternoon.

  • Forms and Records Analyst 2 (non-permanent). Among other tasks, this person will act as a publications liaison between a health insurance advisory program and the state Department of Printing. For more details, salary information, etc., here's the job listing. Note: This application period also ends Friday afternoon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wind gusts tonight in western WA

Weather Underground is predicting gusts of up to 45 miles an hour in Seattle this evening.

To answer common questions about what storm damage is covered by insurance, we built a web page largely devoted to wind damage and insurance.

Hope you don't need it, but if you do, it may help. (And yes, that ladder doesn't look too safe to us, either.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"I'm self-employed. How can I get `Group of 1" health coverage?"

We get this question all the time. And we've got an answer for you.

First, a little background: Last year, a new state law law took effect that allows sole proprietors to be considered "groups of 1." This way, they can qualify for small-group health coverage, instead of having to find coverage on the individual market. Small-group tends to have better benefits, lower costs, and no health screening.

To find out who's selling these policies in your area, type in your zip code here and scroll down the page to see a list of insurers, contact information and tips on picking plans. For more information, you can also contact an insurance agent or broker. Here's an online tool to help you find an agent in your city.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Health carrier cutting your commission? Thinking of charging fees?

We've gotten a lot of calls over the past few weeks from agents and brokers deeply unhappy that their commissions are being reduced -- or eliminated completely -- by some insurers.

We've also been asked whether fees can be charged directly to the consumer instead.

For more on this, click here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Interesting reports

No, really.

Oregon has put out its annual "Health Insurance in Oregon" report. Among the findings:

-About 17 percent of Oregonians had no health insurance in 2009.

-Enrollment in commercial health policies through Oregon's 7 largest insurers fell 15 percent from 2007 to 2009.

-Reforms under federal health care reform "have typically accounted for no more than 4 percentage points of the rate increases submitted to the division" recently.

-And Oregon regulators in some cases approved lower rate hikes than an insurer requested, due to the size of insurer's surpluses.

-Oregon, under a federal grant, is studying how to use its rate review authority to help lower medical costs.

And in much sunnier Tampa, the Insurance Information Institute's Robert Hartwig yesterday released a new report looking at long-term trends -- 80 years of them -- in the property/casualty insurance market. Claims paid since 1931, he said, total $12.5 trillion, after adjusting for inflation.

Among Hartwig's points: that "claim payouts in recent years are volatile but have reached a jagged plateau."