Monday, October 31, 2011

Agent pleads guilty, taken into custody

Former Washington insurance agent Jasmine Jamrus-Kassim pleaded guilty this morning to 10 counts of theft for stealing more than $1 million in retirement funds from elderly insurance clients.

Jamrus-Kassim, who had been free on bond, was immediately taken into custody.

From 2007 to late 2009, several of Jamrus-Kassim's clients cashed out large portions of their retirement accounts, apparently thinking they were re-investing the money. In reality, the money went to Jamrus-Kassim, who spent tens of thousands of dollars on a psychic hotline, clothes, jewelry and a trip to Mexico.

An investigation by the Washington insurance commissioner's Special Investigations Unit led to her arrest in March.

And Bankers Life and Casualty, one of the companies that Jamrus-Kassim worked for, agreed last month to repay the money that Jamrus-Kassim stole

Sentencing in King County Superior Court is slated for Nov. 18.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Children's open enrollment ends Monday, Oct. 31

If you need an individual health plan for your child or want to add them to your insurance, you have until Monday, Oct. 31. After that, unless you meet certain requirements, you'll have to wait until March 15-April 30, 2012.

There are some exceptions that allow children to be enrolled anytime during the year. Parents must apply for their child within 31 days of the following events if either they or their child:
  • No longer qualify for a state program.
  • Lose coverage due to a divorce.
  • Lose employer-sponsored coverage (including COBRA).
  • Move and their plan is not available where they live.
  • Also, parents or guardians can apply year-round for individual coverage within 60 days of birth, adoption, or placement of a child for adoption.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Does insurance cover space junk crashing to earth?

If pieces of a satellite crash on your home or car -- or on you -- does insurance cover that?

Yes, according to the Insurance Information Institute:

"Damages caused by falling objects are generally covered under standard auto, business, homeowners, and life insurance policies..."

the industry group says. It also noted, however, that the odds of being struck by space debris are extremely low.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is the weather really getting worse? Insurer's data suggests yes

Munich Re, a major reinsurance company, this summer released a very interesting report on natural disasters, and the data suggests that, as one newspaper columnist put it, it's not your imagination. The weather really is getting worse. Click on that link, and take a look at the chart you'll see.
Munich Re's full report is online and entitled the 2011 Half-Year Natural Catastrophe Review. There's also a 47-minute webinar on the topic posted online.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Red cars, insurance and speeding tickets

There's an urban myth out there that holds that the color of a car affects your insurance rate. The rumor is so pervasive that some insurers mention it on their corporate websites.

It's not true. In our experience, the color of a car has nothing to do with how much you pay for auto coverage. We review auto insurance rates (among many others) here in Washington state, and we can't recall ever seeing an auto insurance rate schedule that takes color into account. Insurers do often raise rates for high performance vehicles, which may be more likely to come in red, but color itself is meaningless in determining rates.

(Here are the sorts of factors insurers take into account, including things that might surprise you -- like your credit score.)

While we're on the topic, how about the widespread belief that red cars get more speeding tickets?, the rumor-busting website, says that doesn't seem to be true, either:

"...It does not appear that red cars get cited for speeding more often than they statistically should."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't get fooled by official-looking health insurance website

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is warning consumers about a site that "has the appearance of being an official government website" but isn't. The website is Here's a partial screenshot:

From CMS:
This new not maintained by any government programs and consumers are strongly urged not to submit any personal information requested by this website under the assumption that it is a government website.
The site includes a small disclaimer acknowledging that it's not a government-run site, but is:
"rather (a) solicitation by a licensed insurance entity/agent/broker seeking to assist and enroll individuals in the PCIP program or other insurance products."
Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans -- PCIPs for short -- were created under federal health care reform. They're a good option for people who have a problem getting insurance due to a pre-existing medical condition. Here's our official, real website that explains more about Washington's PCIP program.

Not in Washington? Here's the official federal PCIP site.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Premera refiles rate request

Premera Blue Cross has refiled a rate change for its individual health plans - this time seeking a 4.7 percent increase. We disapproved it's earlier request for a 3.1 percent increase in September. We have 60 days to review the request and make a decision.

The new rate, if approved would take effect on Jan. 1, 2012 and would impact approximately 3,874 people.

You can view the entire rate filing, a summary of key date supplied by Premera and why we turned down their last request at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Insurance company not paying a life insurance claim? Here's what you can do...

Generally, insurance companies can only deny life insurance proceeds within the first two policy years for two reasons. This is called the "contestability period." After the two years, the insurer generally cannot contest the benefits.

The two reasons are if the death of the insured:

1. Is due to suicide (this does not apply to group life policies).
2. Didn't tell the truth on the application for coverage. This is called the “contestability period.” After the two years, the insurance company cannot contest the benefits.

(Bonus round: Here's a link to our ever-popular post on "How to find old life insurance policies.")

If you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy and you think the insurer is wrongly denying your claim for benefits, file a complaint with our office, if you live in Washington state. (If you don't, here's a handy map showing how to contact your own state insurance regulator.) We'll look into the matter and see if we can help you resolve the problem. File a complaint online or give us a call at 1-800-562-6900.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where you can find a flu shot

Here's a new site, developed by the feds, where you can type in your zip code and immediately get a list of local pharmacies, etc. that have the flu vaccine. (Your doctor or clinic's probably got the shots, too.)

We thought it was pretty clever and useful.

Insurance agent who sold fake policies sentenced to more than two years in prison

An insurance agent who sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in fake business-insurance policies has been sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Brenda MacLaren-Beattie, 68, of Des Moines, Wash., was sentenced Thursday in King County Superior Court to 26 months in prison. She was immediately taken into custody. She was also ordered to pay back $532,659 in restitution.

“I’m very pleased that the court took this as seriously as we did,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “This agent sold fictitious coverage to dozens of medical offices in Washington and Oregon, often for years. People thought they had coverage and they didn’t.”

An investigation by Kreidler’s office found that from late 2001 through 2009, MacLaren-Beattie issued fake insurance to 25 oral surgeons in Washington and 16 in Oregon. During that time, she is believed to have collected more than $532,000 in premiums for fictitious insurance policies, often issuing counterfeit certificates of insurance to doctors and clinics. Her insurance license expired in 2009. (And here's the cease-and-desist order issued at the time.)

In a few cases – a lost camera, some water damage – she paid out small insurance claims herself. One of her clients became suspicious after a claim check was issued by MacLaren-Beattie, rather than from an insurance company.

The fictitious policies were for business owners’ general liability insurance, which typically covers things like slip-and-fall accidents, employee theft, and damage to rented property.

MacLaren-Beattie pleaded guilty in August to eight counts of first-degree theft, a felony. On Thursday, she received eight 26-month sentences, which will run concurrently.

How to avoid buying a flood-damaged car

With hurricane and storm season winding down, an insurance industry organization is warning about the likelihood that flood-damaged vehicles will be sold to salvage dealers, their flood-damage history illegally hidden, and sold as normal cars in the used-car market.

An anti-fraud group, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, has created an online tool where you can look up -- for free -- a car's vehicle identification number and see if it's been declared a salvage vehicle by an insurer. (The VIN number is typically visible through the front windshield, where the windshield meets the car's hood. It's usually a long combination of numbers and letters.)

Also, the Insurance Information Institute suggests being on the lookout for several warning signs that a car may have been flooded:

 Mildew, debris and silt in places where it wouldn't normally be found, such as under the carpeting in the trunk, or around the engine compartment

 Rust on screws and other metal parts

 Waterstains or faded upholstery; discoloration of seatbelts and door panels

 Dampness in the floor and carpeting; moisture on the inside of the instrument panel

 A moldy odor or an intense smell of Lysol or deodorizer; this is a tactic frequently used by dealers to cover up an odor problem

If you suspect that your local car dealer is committing fraud by knowingly selling flooded cars as regular used cars, the III suggests contacting your insurance company, local law enforcement agency or the NICB at 800-TEL-NICB.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Scammed seniors will be repaid more than $1 million

Retirees who lost more than $1 million to an unscrupulous insurance agent will be repaid, under an agreement reached between the insurance company and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Bankers Life and Casualty, one of the companies that the independent agent worked for, has agreed to replace the money allegedly stolen by the agent.

An investigation by Kreidler’s office found that several of Jasmine Jamrus-Kassim’s clients repeatedly cashed out large portions of their annuities with Banker’s Life and Casualty from late 2007 to late 2009. The money was then pocketed by Kassim.

Jamrus-Kassim, of Kent, was arrested in March 2011 and charged with 21 counts of first-degree theft. Her trial is pending in King County Superior Court.

“I commend Bankers Life for stepping up and making these victims whole, to the extent possible,” said Kreidler. “I’m deeply saddened that one victim, stripped of his life’s savings, has already passed away. In his case, restitution will go to his estate.”

The victims, who ranged from age 74 to 90, typically made out their checks to “S.A. Saad” and gave them to Kassim. Several said they believed that S.A. Saad was an insurance company official. They thought their money was being reinvested.

In reality, Kassim has two daughters, both with the initials and surname “S.A. Saad.” Most of the money was deposited briefly in the girls’ accounts, then moved to Kassim’s personal credit union account. Kassim’s financial records show thousands of dollars spent on clothes, jewelry, and a trip to Mexico. They also show large payments to online psychic advisors, including $20,000 in charges from one psychic website in one month.

The victims live in Bellevue, Renton and Seattle. The payment amounts are:

• $512,112

• $488,071

• $116,070

• $65,321

• And $929

Bankers has also agreed to pay interest.

Class-action settlement covers hundreds of thousands of insurance customers

Hundreds of thousands of people who were led to expect more interest than they got from annuities are eligible for a multi-million dollar class-action settlement – if they sign up on time.

“Consumers across the country were misled, and I’m very glad to see this case finally resolved with restitution,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “I urge anyone who qualifies to sign up for their share of the settlement.”

The settlement involves Northern Life Insurance Company’s marketing of tax-sheltered fixed annuities, primarily to teachers, starting in 1995. (The company, which was based in Seattle, merged with Minnesota-based Reliastar Life Insurance Co. in 2002.)

The annuity documents, Kreidler said, misrepresented to consumers the way that interest would be calculated over the life of the annuities. Instead, Northern Life paid a high interest rate only in the first year of the contract, reducing the rate during all the remaining years.

Under the settlement, Northern Life has agreed to pay $29 to $40 for each $10,000 in value of a person’s annuity. The settlement provides up to $31 million for the payments. A King County Superior Court judge recently approved the mediated settlement, in which Northern Life did not admit wrongdoing.

Northern Life has notified 406,000 account holders that they are potentially affected by the settlement. An estimated 20,000 of those people are in Washington state.

“People are naturally skeptical of mailings,” said Kreidler, “but don’t just toss this one in the trash.”
The one-page claim form, also available at, must be mailed back on or before Oct. 17, 2011. (It can also be scanned and emailed by that date.) Under penalty of perjury, signers must certify that they owned a fixed annuity issued by Northern Life sometime between Jan. 1, 1995 and the present time.

Typical payments are likely to range from $60 to $80, although some will be significantly larger.
The claimants were represented by private attorneys in the 10-year court case, which involved more than 1 million pages of documents.

Kreidler’s office investigated the issue and filed an amicus brief in the case, saying that consumers had been substantially harmed by misleading marketing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Turned down for life insurance? Here's what you can do...

If you apply for life insurance and get rejected, it's usually due to a specific health condition. Here’s what you can do to appeal their decision:

1. Ask the insurer to tell you, in writing, what specific condition disqualified you for coverage and where they obtained that information.

2. Review their information for accuracy. If you find any discrepancies, contact the doctor and ask him or her to correct the information. If the information is accurate, discuss the condition with your doctor. If the doctor thinks the condition is not a major health risk, ask him or her if they’d be willing to write a letter on your behalf to the insurer.

Other options:

• Asking the company if they would consider issuing coverage at what's called a "rated premium."

• Applying to other companies. Just because one company doesn’t want to take on your risk doesn’t mean another one won’t. Each company determines which risk they are willing to take. (Brokers can help with this.)

• If ultimately, you don’t qualify for coverage through a standard life insurance company, consider applying for coverage through a company that offers covereage specifically for high-risk people. You’d pay more, but at least you'd have coverage.