Monday, December 31, 2012

Insurance statistics in Washington state

Each year, the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-backed research group, compiles data on the insurance industry in each state.

From this year's Washington edition:
  • Number of people working in the insurance industry in Washington state: 49,445.
  • Their payroll: $3.2 billion.
  • Premium taxes paid: $406 million
  • Premiums: About $19 billion.
The report includes a lot of other information, including details about which companies write the most insurance, losses incurred, etc.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Aetna fined $1 million for insurance violations

A Connecticut insurance company has been fined $1 million by Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler for multiple violations over several years.

Aetna Life Insurance Company has agreed to pay the fine. The violations include issuing unapproved insurance policies, failing to file legally-required documents with the state and charging unapproved rates.

“All insurers must comply with state law, and most of them do,” said Kreidler. “I hope that this fine and compliance plan resolves these problems with Aetna.”

Among the violations:

• Starting in 2005, Aetna issued health, disability or life insurance policies to more than 4,400 people that did not comply with state law. Among the violations: The policies had not been filed for approval with Washington state.

• Also starting in 2005, the company issued health policies that did not include all Washington state health care mandates. Nor did they describe Washington’s appeals and grievance process, as required by law.

• For more than three years, Aetna continued to sell a health policy that had been disapproved.

• Starting in 2009, Aetna issued other health, disability and life policies that had not been filed with the state. Some of those health policies that did not include all Washington state mandates. Nor did the company have an approved appeals and grievance process for those plans.

• In 2010 and 2011, Aetna issued medical and dental plans for more than 100 Nordstrom retirees that had not been approved by Kreidler’s office, as required by law.

The company has also agreed to a compliance plan designed to prevent similar problems in the future.

Fines issued by Kreidler’s office do not go to the insurance commissioner’s office. The money collected goes to the state’s general fund.

Yak insurance vs. yakking about insurance

Nepalese herders, tired of losing their livestock to snow leopards, have come up with an insurance plan to compensate them when a leopard kills a yak.

The herders pay about $1.50 a year to cover each yak, and are paid about $50 if the yak is killed by a snow leopard.

(On a side note, we're betting that this story is driving a significant amount of traffic to, which is a blog devoted not to yak insurance, but to yakking about insurance.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Order approving Amerigroup WA acquisition by WellPoint

We've gotten a number of calls from analysts about this: Here's the final order approving acquisition of Amerigroup Washington Inc. by WellPoint, Inc.

For the full history and the rest of the documents, see this page and scroll down to "Amerigroup Washington Inc."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

High wind warning in south Puget Sound -- gusts up to 60 mph Sun and Mon

The National Weather Service has issued a high wind warning for the south Puget Sound area, including south Tacoma, Olympia, the southern part of Hood Canal, Montesano, Chehalis and Centralia.

A "southerly wind 15 to 30 mph will develop late this evening (Sunday)...then switch to southwest wind 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph late tonight and Monday morning," the NWS said. "Winds will slowly ease Monday afternoon."

High winds -- especially when soils are soaked, as they are now -- can topple trees, cut power lines, etc. After winter storms, we often get a flurry of calls from folks wondering what their homeowners and auto insurance covers. Here are some of the most common questions we get, along with the answers.

Update: (10 a.m. Monday) The winds have died down, although we might get a bit of snow tonight.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hole-in-one golf insurer extradited to face felony charges in WA

From a news release we sent out today:
OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Connecticut businessman who insures golf tournament hole-in-one prizes but has a history of failing to pay has been extradited to Washington to face charges.

Kevin Kolenda, 55, of Norwalk, Conn., was flown from Connecticut to Washington under guard Thursday. He has been booked into the King County Jail. He’s expected to be arraigned Monday at King County Superior Court in Seattle.

“It’s rare that we have to go to these extremes to rein in a scammer,” said Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “But Mr. Kolenda’s been thumbing his nose at regulators for years. Arresting him seems to be the only way to get his attention.”

In August, Kolenda was charged in King County Superior Court with five counts of transacting insurance without a license, a class B felony. His arraignment was slated for Sept. 5, but he failed to show up. A judge issued a bench warrant for Kolenda’s arrest.

In addition to failing to show up in court, Kolenda also ignored a Washington cease-and-desist order in 2004 and a $125,000 fine in 2008.

On Sept. 26, Kolenda was arrested on the Washington bench warrant by police in Norwalk. He has been held since then in jail in Connecticut, pending extradition. His transfer to Washington was approved in November by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who’s helped us get Mr. Kolenda here to Washington to face justice,” said Kreidler. “He has a long history of selling illegal insurance and refusing to pay prize winners.”
In some cases, charities have had to come up with the prize money that Kolenda refused to pay. In others, the prize winners agreed to forgo a prize.

Kolenda in 1995 started a business called Golf Marketing, working out of a home his parents owned in Norwalk. Since then, the business’ name has changed several times, including: Golf Marketing Worldwide LLC, Golf Marketing Inc.,, and currently Worldwide. The company also has a regional office in Rye, N.Y.

Kolenda has repeatedly failed to pay winning golfers in Washington. Among them:

• In 2003, Kolenda illegally sold insurance for a tournament in Bremerton. But when a golfer got a hole in one and tried to claim the $10,000 prize, Kolenda wouldn’t pay.

• In 2004, Kolenda sold insurance for a Vancouver tournament. Again, a golfer got a hole in one. Kolenda refused to pay the $50,000 prize. After a hearing at which Kolenda failed to appear, he was ordered in 2008 to pay a $125,000 fine. He never did.

• In 2010, Kolenda sold coverage to pay $25,000 for a hole in one during a golf tournament in Snohomish. A player got a hole in one. His golf partners signed notarized forms attesting to the hole in one. The prize remains unpaid, despite numerous calls and emails from the partners and tournament officials.

Similar allegations have been made against Mr. Kolenda and/or his business in numerous other states, including Montana, Ohio, Georgia, California, New York, Hawaii, Alabama, Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Job opening: .NET developer

We're recruiting to fill a position for an information technology specialist 4 (.NET developer) in our operations division in Tumwater, Wash.

The successful applicant's duties will include software development of mission-critical agency systems, systems analysis, as well as software unit and quality assurance testing.

For more specifics, duties, salary, timeline, etc., please see the full job listing.

Guilty plea from man who hit car, then bought insurance

A Blaine man who rear-ended another driver, rushed to buy insurance, then claimed that the crash happened afterward has pleaded guilty to insurance fraud.

Mark Traxler, 51, let his auto insurance lapse in January because he didn't pay the premium.

Two weeks after his coverage ended, he hit a car in Bellingham, causing more than $5,000 in damage.

He immediately went to his insurance agent and paid for new coverage. By nightfall, the other driver had made a claim against his policy.

The problem: Traxler said that the accident happened after he'd bought the coverage, when a 9-1-1 call placed by the other driver indicated that it happened before.

Traxler today pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court. He was sentenced to 364 days in jail, but 354 were suspended on the conditions that he do 80 hours of community service, pay a $250 crime victim penalty assessment, a $200 filing fee and a $500 fine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Job opening: Market analyst

We're recruiting to fill one permanent position for a market analyst in our Tumwater, Wash. building.

The person will be responsible for conducting market analysis of regulated entities (e.g. insurance companies) under the direction of our chief market analyst. We provide regulatory oversight of market interactions between consumers and companies, in order to protect consumers and promote a healthy business environment.

Please see the full job listing for a description of the job duties, salary, benefits, etc.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Coming soon: Our revamped website

For more than a year now, we've been working hard behind the scenes developing an easier-to-use website. While insurance industry professionals -- agents, brokers and insurers -- are familiar with navigating our site, testing showed that consumers could only complete site-related tasks about a third of the time. That's a problem, obviously, when a key part of our mission is informing and protecting consumers.

So we've revised the navigational structure of the site to make it a lot more intuitive. For years, for example, much of the navigational structure on the site simply mirrored the agency's organizational chart, rather than putting things where average users would expect them to be.

Along the way, we've repeatedly tested the changes on both consumers and industry professionals to make sure that we really are improving things, rather than just changing them.

The upshot: Successful task completion on the website for consumers, which is about 33 percent on our current website, rises to nearly 80 percent on our new prototype website, pictured below.

We're also changing the look and feel of the site to update it. The site isn't live yet, but we're expecting to make the change in mid-January.

There will inevitably be some hiccups and things we'll need to fix, but we think you'll like the new site better. And we know it will be easier to use.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

20,000 Washingtonians potentially affected by data breach at Nationwide Insurance

An October data breach in a Nationwide Insurance computer network resulted in personal information for thousands of Washingtonians being stolen, according to company officials.

"On October 3, 2012, a portion of our computer network that is used by Nationwide Insurance and Allied Insurance was criminally intruded upon by an unidentified perpetrator. We discovered the attack that day, and took immediate steps to contain the intrusion," Nationwide attorney Samuel Lee notified our office recently.

The company has said that more than 1.1 million people's personal information may have been affected. Some of them are not Nationwide customers. Apparently, some people who might have just gotten quotes, etc. are on the list of those who may have been affected. We've been contacted by some of these people, and since they're not Nationwide customers, they initially think the letter is some kind of scam or sales pitch for ID theft services.

"Although we are still investigating the incident, our initial analysis has indicated that the compromised information included individuals’ name and some combination of their Social Security number, driver’s license number and/or their date of birth and possibly their marital status, gender, and occupation, and the name and address of their employer," Lee wrote.

The attack was reported to law enforcement, including the FBI, who are investigating. Nationwide is sending notification letters to 20,916 people whose personal information may have been compromised. The company says it is tightening network security. It is also offering a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to those 20,916 people.

In the letter being sent out, the company apologizes for the data breach and says "we are not aware of any misuse of your information at this time."

Nationwide customers should watch for a letter in the mail, or they can call a special hotline the company has set up: 1-800-760-1125.

The state attorney general's office also maintains an excellent page with detailed tips on preventing and dealing with identity theft.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Think you have flood insurance? Make sure.

Again, we can't say it enough: Homeowners and businesses in flood-prone areas should make sure they have adequate flood coverage.

“Standard homeowners or business policies do not cover flooding,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s tragic when people don’t discover that until it’s too late.”

The federally-run National Flood Insurance Program ( is the first stop for most people seeking flood coverage. The program was created by Congress in 1968. It offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters and business owners in communities that have taken certain steps to help reduce the risk of flooding. There is a 30-day waiting period for most policies, so it’s important not to delay.

Many insurance agents offer National Flood Insurance Program policies. The average NFIP policy costs about $600 a year.

“Renters should also strongly consider flood coverage for their belongings,” Kreidler said. “That coverage, which starts at $49 a year, is inexpensive. Replacing your stuff is not.”

Mortgage lenders in flood-prone areas typically require flood coverage. But homeowners often later let that coverage lapse.

The National Flood Insurance Program website has online tools to estimate the flood risk at a particular address, as well as damage estimates from different flood levels.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Don't forget flood coverage

We can't stress this enough: many people assume that their homeowners policy includes flood coverage.

It doesn't. Standard homeowners-, renters- and business policies do not cover flood damage. If your property is in a flood prone area, you should strongly consider buying flood coverage.

How do you know if you're in a risky flood area? Type your address into the red box on the home page for the federally run National Flood Insurance Program. That's where most people buy their flood coverage. Many local insurance agents sell these policies.

And if you think a few inches of water wouldn't cause much damage, you might be surprised. The NFIP put together an interesting interactive simulator that details -- item by item -- the costs of different levels of flooding in a typical home. See the link above.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Job opening: Senior market analyst

We're looking for a senior market analyst in our Tumwater office. Here's the job description, including salary, responsibilities, and timeline. The deadline for applying  is just before 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3.*

Also, we still have an opening for an Information Technology Specialist 4 (.NET developer).

*Update: The deadline has now been extended to Dec. 17, 2012.

One computer, one camera, fake invoices...and four different insurance claims

A Renton man has been sentenced to jail plus community service after submitting thousands of dollars in bogus claims for a $4,900 laptop, and a $3,200 camera.

Between December 2010 and September 2011, Michael Tran Lai, 32, filed multiple claims with four different insurance companies claiming the loss of the MacBook Pro laptop and Nikon camera. He claimed they were stolen from a car, or lost in luggage while travelling, or stolen from his hotel room. The invoices turned out to be fake.

He also filed multiple claims for the same accident damage to his Lexus.

Laid was sentenced Nov. 16 to 10 days in jail, 160 hours of community service, and $854 in court fees and costs. A restitution hearing is also pending.

Tips to avoid a turkey-fryer fire...because here's what that looks like

The turkey-fryer disaster video is a YouTube holiday staple, and it's not surprising. Oil burns really well. Turkeys are big.
The biggest mistake seems to be this: overfilling the pot and plunging a big turkey in while the flame is lit, causing a lot of oil to splash over the sides and, yup, ignite.

And sometimes, this happens on a deck or close to a house.

So if you must fry your turkey, here are some key tips:
  • Fry outside, away from the house.
  • Do not overfill the pot with oil.
  • Properly thaw the turkey.
  • Turn off the flame before adding the turkey.
  • Use the grappling-hook thing to lower the turkey in carefully (and not splash oil).
  • Be careful of oil splattering on your arms. Splashed boiling oil can cause horrible burns.
  • And -- if in doubt, review video No. 2 above -- keep a grease-approved fire extinguisher handy.
Bonus round: Actual turkey-fryer-mishap-victim William Shatner reviews these points in his cautionary video "Eat, Fry, Love."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Flood warning update

Flood warnings remain in effect in the following counties: Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason and Thurston, with some gale warnings and small craft advisories offshore.

Here's the complete list from the National Weather Service office in Seattle.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flood, high wind and storm warnings in WA

The National Weather Service has issued a long list of flood-, wind- and storm warnings, watches and advisories today. Here's a roundup:

A flood warning has been issued for the Chehalis River at Centralia (in Lewis County) and the Chehalis River near Grand Mound (in Thurston County). Moderate flooding is expected, and the weather service is warning motorists not to try driving through flooded areas -- the most common cause of flood-related deaths in Washington.

In Lewis County, the flood warning will be in effect from Tuesday morning to Wednesday evening, with the river expected to hit flood stage around 9 a.m. Tuesday and crest 4 feet over flood stage around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

What's that mean? At four feet over flood stage, the weather service says, "The Chehalis River in Lewis County will flood some residential and commercial areas with water encroaching upon the first floor of some homes and businesses. Swift flood waters will cover some roads.

At Grand Mound, the river's expected to hit flood stage around 7 a.m. Tuesday and crest about 2 1/2 feet over flood stage around 4 a.m. Wednesday. Flooding of several roads in Independence Valley is expected, including SR 12 and James-, Independence-, Moon- and Anderson roads. Flood waters are expected to cut off access to and from Chehalis Reservation and inundate nearby farmland.

Minor to moderate flooding is also predicted the the Chehalis River near Doty (Lewis County), the Newaukum near Chehalis (Lewis), the Satsop River near Satsop (Grays Harbor County) and the Skokomish River near Potlatch (Mason). There's a flood advisory -- meaning minor flooding is possible -- for a dozen western Washington counties, as well as western Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties.

A high wind warning is in effect for Seattle and the central coast areas, with the strongest winds occurring as we post this, with the warning lasting until 3 p.m. South winds of 25-35 miles an hour have been reported, with gusts near 60 miles an hour.

A winter storm warning has been issued for the Cascade mountains above 4,500 feet, with periods of heavy snow expected to persist through evening. An additional 1-2 feet of snow is likely, especially over the North Cascades, the weather service says.

Similarly, a winter weather advisory is in effect for the Olympic mountains above 5,000 feet, with 6-11 inches of snow expected, but tapering off late today.

Fraud charges for man who hit car, then bought insurance

A Blaine man who rear-ended another driver, rushed to buy insurance, then claimed that the crash happened afterward has been charged with insurance fraud.

Mark Traxler, 51, let his auto insurance lapse in January because he didn't pay the premium.

Two weeks after his coverage ended, he hit a car in Bellingham, causing more than $5,000 in damage.

He immediately went to his insurance agent and paid for new coverage. By nightfall, the other driver had made a claim against his policy.

The problem: Traxler said that the accident happened after he'd bought the coverage, when a 9-1-1 call placed by the other driver indicated that it happened before.

Traxler has been charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with insurance fraud.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The search for Big Daddy: barbecue case leads to insurance fraud charges

In the summer of 2011, a Renton man named Cassk Thomas, Jr. filed a claim with his insurer, saying that someone had stolen his his 26-foot, 8,500-pound, two-tank, three-grill barbecue smoker, dubbed "Big Daddy."

The barbecue had been stored behind a locked fence, he told police. Two screws on a hinge had been removed. The smoker, as well as the double-tandem-axle trailer it was mounted on, was gone. Thomas provided his insurance adjuster with an invoice from a Spokane company, totalling $32,343, for the trailer and smoker.

Thomas' insurer, American Family Insurance, paid Thomas $30,474 for the lost barbecue, as well as $24,668 for lost income while he sought a replacement barbecue.

Upon investigation, it turned out that the trailer was actually purchased from a company in Texas for less than a third of what Thomas claimed. A former business partner said it cost $9,470, and she provided paperwork showing that.

The company Thomas had named as the manufacturer in Spokane apparently does not exist. It's not listed with the state departments of licensing or revenue, not on the Internet, the business address is a residence and, in repeated attempts, no one answered the phone there. A company official named by Thomas turned out to be an old roomate of his.

Thomas has been charged in King County Superior Court with 1st degree theft and insurance fraud, both of which are felonies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A hard lesson for victims with flooded houses: standard homeowners policies don't cover flooding

The New York Times has a nuts-and-bolts story about insurance concerns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and all of the lessons apply here in Washington.

The biggest one -- and something that we repeat often -- is that a standard homeowners policy does not cover flooding. For that coverage, people typically buy a policy from the federally-run National Flood Insurance Program.

The problem is that unless required to by their lender, many homeowners simply don't get flood coverage. (And even those whose mortgage requires it often later let it lapse.)

The article covers things like who pays for tree removal, will you be reimbursed for living costs if your home is uninhabitable, and will an insurer cover the cost of ruined food when the power fails.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

25 free apps

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of free health-related applications, created by the feds, regarding health. They include apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android and iPod Touch.

The apps include:

Find a Health Center: Created by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this map-linked app helps you find the nearest federally funded health center, which will care for you even if you have no health insurance. Based on your income, you pay what you can afford.

The popular BMI calculator, which helps determine your body mass index.

Brrd Brawl: A mobile game developed to give jittery quitting smokers something to do with their hands.

52 Weeks of Women's Health: Info on 52 health topics, ranging from eye health to contraception. Also helps track medications, allergies, etc.

Other apps include help triaging injuries in the field, treating radiation injuries, quitting smoking, tracking the flu in your area, tracking a pregnancy and reuniting after a disaster.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Job opening: .NET developer

We're recruiting to fill a position for an information technology specialist 4 (.NET developer) in our operations division in Tumwater, Wash.

The successful applicant's duties will include software development of mission-critical agency systems, systems analysis, as well as software unit and quality assurance testing.

For more specifics, duties, salary, timeline, etc., please see the full job listing.

Three companies fined $605,000

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is fining three companies a total of $605,000 for violating Washington insurance laws.

“Our insurance laws protect consumers and maintain a level playing field in the insurance market,” said Kreidler. “Break the law and you’ll face the consequences.”

The fines were as follows:

PacifiCare of Washington (now known as UnitedHealthcare of Washington, Inc.) has agreed to pay a $400,000 fine for what state financial examiners concluded were improper royalties paid to an affiliated company. The company contended that the payments were administrative fees, but acknowledged that it had failed to annually reconcile the payments with actual costs to show that the company wasn’t overpaying.

In addition to the fine, the company has recovered the $72.9 million it paid between 1999 and late 2006.

STA Travel Inc., based in Texas, agreed to pay $115,000 for allowing unlicensed staffers to sell insurance policies in Washington. The company is a travel agency specializing in international college student travel. It sells travel insurance as part of its travel services.

Although the company’s office manager was a licensed insurance agent, under Washington law, all staff selling travel policies needed to be licensed. Policies were sold by unlicensed staffers from 2005 to 2011.

Lenovo (United States) Inc., incorporated in Delaware, has agreed to pay $90,000 for improperly selling 1,327 service contracts in Washington. The company failed to register as a service contract provider, as required by state law. The service contracts were sold from mid-2008 through mid-2012.

Fines collected by the insurance commissioner's office do not go to the agency. The money is deposited in the state's general fund to pay for other state services.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

License revocation for insurance agent who allegedly faked own death

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has issued an order to revoke the license of an Enumclaw insurance agent who allegedly faked his own death as part of a $2 million scam.

Aaron Travis Beaird, manager of Team Financial Services LLC, "knowingly devised a scheme and artifice to defraud consumers and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses," according to the order.

Beaird would recomment to his clients that they liquidate one investment and transfer the money into another investment or insurance policy, making the checks out to his business.

The problem: Beaird didn't actually invest the money or buy a policy. Instead, according to the license revocation order, he'd take the money for "his own use and benefit." To cover things up, he would provide his clients with fake account statements.

Beaird was arrested in early July on federal charges of wire fraud and mail fraud. Investigators said he left a fake suicide note in his car, which was found parked near a bridge on June 23rd.

He pleaded guilty in federal district court Aug. 28th. He admitted to defrauding at least 11 people out of more than $1 million. He is currently incarcerated, awaiting sentencing,  at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center.

Beaird has the right to demand a hearing to contest the order.

Update: (Nov. 20) The revocation has taken effect.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Flood advisory issued for most of western Washington

The National Weather Service office in Seattle has issued an urban- and small-stream flood advisory for 14 counties throughout western Washington. Nearly 2 inches of rain has fallen across much of the area in the past 24 hours, with another 1-2 inches expected today.

Affected counties include:


Minor flooding is expected in urban areas and small streams into this evening, according to the NWS. The flood advisory has been extended to 6:30 p.m. today.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Market Conduct Examiner position extended to Nov. 13

Please help us spread the word - We're currently hiring for a Market Conduct Examiner. Sound interesting? This person will work under our Chief Market Conduct Examiner or Lead Examiner Analyst, analyzing, reviewing and identifying the market conduct practices of health insurance companies and other regulated entities that could harm consumers.

This job posting is open until Nov. 13, so if you know someone who may be interested and who's up to the challenge, please tell them soon! See the salary, specific duties and other qualifications.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Arraignment for Spokane man who claimed repo-ed truck was stolen

Andrew James Petrie, 28, was arraigned today in Spokane County Superior Court for claiming that his truck had been stolen when in reality it had been repossessed.

He faces one count of first-degree attempted theft and one count of insurance fraud.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In what state am I most likely to hit a deer?

Each year, State Farm compiles a list of deer-vehicle collisions and creates a list of states in which you're most likely to hit a deer.

West Virginia has topped the list for six years in a row, with other particularly dangerous states being virtually all of the northern Midwestern states and the mid-Atlantic states. South Dakota's No. 2, and Iowa's No. 3.

Washington, it turns out, is one of the lowest-risk states, coming in at No. 43 this year. Your odds of hitting a deer in the Evergreen State are a mere 1 in 477, according to State Farm's estimates.

The company estimates that there are about 10,700 collisons with deer in Washington state each year. (Compare that with, say, Pennsylvania's 115,000.)

Oregon is No. 37 on the list, and Idaho's 33.

Arizona, perhaps not surprisingly, is the stae in which you're least likely to run into a deer. Armadillos, however, were not part of the study.

Here's the full list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kreidler fines insurer $500,000

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is fining Ohio-based BCS Insurance Company $500,000 for issuing hundreds of thousands of policies using unapproved rates and policy language.

“A fair insurance market depends on companies playing by the rules,” said Kreidler. “When an insurer files rates and policy language with us, that’s what we expect them to use.”

BCS Insurance has agreed to pay the fine. An additional $250,000 fine is suspended, provided the company commits no similar violations for two years. The company has also agreed to a two-year plan, including internal audits, to make sure the company is in compliance with Washington state law.

An investigation by Kreidler’s office found that between 2007 and 2009, BCS issued over 500,000 travel insurance policies that were different from the policy language filed with the state. Rates for identical benefits were inconsistent, depending on who the customer was.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How much of my driving record can an insurer use?

We get this question all the time.

The answer's found in a section of state law called WAC 284-30-500(3). (WAC stands for Washington Administrative Code.) Here's the key section, with some highlighting we added:

(3) It is an unfair practice for any insurer to consider traffic violations or accidents which occurred more than three years in the past, with respect to the acceptance, rejection, cancellation or nonrenewal of any insured under a private passenger automobile insurance policy, unless, because of the individual's violations, accidents or driving record during the three years immediately past, the earlier violations or accidents are significantly relevant to the individual's qualifications for insurance.

So insurers generally cannot use the older data as a basis to reject/cancel/non-renew you, but there is no prohibition against using the older data to assess risk and rate -- meaning set the cost of -- your auto policy.

Even if you have a problem driving record, it's always a good idea to shop around for alternative rates, since insurers don't all charge the same rate for the same level of coverage.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Here come the rains

After an unusually dry early fall, western Washington's long rainy season begins in earnest this weekend, when the first of a series of wet weather systems moves into the Pacific Northwest.

Weather Underground reports that:
A front bringing heavier rain will arrive late Saturday... with significant precipitation continuing Sunday and Monday.

Rainfall amounts during the period from Saturday afternoon through Monday evening will likely be around 3 to 8 inches in the mountains... with the heaviest precipitation over the Olympics and north Cascades. The snow level will be mainly around 10000 feet.

Rainfall over the western Washington lowlands will probably range from 2 to 4 inches along the coast and 1 to 2 inches over the interior lowlands.
Because of the long dry spell, forecasters say, flooding is unlikely. But rivers are expected to rise sharply.

Drivers should also be extra cautious. During dry weather, oil that has dripped off cars and trucks onto roadways doesn't have a chance to be washed away. The rains will spread that oil, making roads extra-slick for the first couple days of rain.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guilty plea in insurance fraud case over "stolen" bicycles

A Pierce County man pleaded guilty today to two counts of forgery after falsely claiming that two bicycles worth $17,000 were stolen from his garage.

John L. Southerly, of Fox Island, was sentenced in Pierce County Superior Court to 45 days of electronic home monitoring and $800 in fees.

In May 2011, Southerly told his insurance company that two Specialized Epic bicycles and accessories had been stolen. He filed a police report with a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, saying that he'd left his garage door open and discovered that the two bikes, valued at $17,562, were gone.

Southerly told his insurer, Travelers Indemnity Co., that he'd bought both bikes from an Arizona company. When Travelers asked for copies of his receipts, Southerly sent an email that was purportedly from the bike company. The bike company email came from a Gmail account. Attached was an invoice for each bike. Southerly later also filed a sworn statement of proof of loss for the bikes.

Travelers sent an investigator to talk to the bike shop owner and try to verify that the invoices were authentic. No, the owner said, pointing out discrepancies.

Then, last June, Travelers received an email from a different Gmail address.

"This is Detective Harris," it began. "I work out of the Tacoma office. I am trying to follow up on a case that involves Mr. Southerly..."

The email didn't contain contact information for this "Detective Harris," or even specify which law enforcement agency the detective supposedly worked for.

Travelers denied Southerly's claim and turned the case over to the state insurance commissioner's Special Investigations Unit. It quickly determined that there was no "Detective Harris" working for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, the Tacoma Police Department or the Lakewood Police Department.

With search warrants, the Special Investigations Unit determined that both Gmail accounts listed Southerly's real email as a secondary contact and were sent from Southerly's IP address.

Southerly, who did not show up for a scheduled court appearance earlier this year, was arrested in August while leaving a gym after a workout.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Got an old Medicare supplement plan? You might save money by switching to a newer plan

Consumers who are on Medicare Supplement plans may be able to save money – and possibly increase their coverage – by moving to Medicare Supplement plans that insurance companies issued after June 1, 2010.
As a result of a change in federal law, many Medicare Supplement companies issued new plans that started on that date. Many of the plans issued after that date use the same Medicare Supplement letter as plans issued prior to June 1, 2010. But the coverage often costs less, and is sometimes more comprehensive, than a same-lettered plan issued prior to that date. As a result, in some situations, you might be able to get more for your money by switching plans.
For example: a Plan G issued after June 1, 2010 may cost less and provide more comprehensive coverage than a pre-June 1, 2010 Plan G.
So if you’re on a Med Supp plan that you bought before that date, you might want to check the prices of newer Med Supp plans to see if it would be worthwhile to switch.

Note: Headline -- we'd accidentally typed "Medicaid" rather than "Medicare," has been corrected.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why did my health insurance go up so much? Often, it's because you had a birthday.

We often hear from consumers who say that their rate increase was substantially higher than what we approved.

One of Washington's major health insurers, for example, recently increased its premiums for individual plans an average of 13.5 percent. The highest increase among the plans was 21.5 percent. But we subsequently heard from consumers who are seeing rate hikes of 35 percent or more.

What's going on? Birthdays.

If you had a birthday in the past year and your new age ends in a zero or a five (55, 60, etc.), then you can expect a rate increase when your individual health plan renews. This is because you moved into a higher age band. (The insurers group ages together, five years at a time.) Since medical costs tend to increase with age, your premiums tend to jump every time you move to the next five-year band.

And when an age band increase combines with an across-the-board rate increase for everyone who’s on the health plan, you get a sort of double-whammy: the total rate increase can be substantially higher than what our agency approved.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Spokane man charged for claiming repossessed truck was stolen

A Spokane man was charged today with attempted first-degree theft and insurance fraud for claiming that his Toyota Tacoma pickup truck had been stolen, when in reality it had been repossessed. In fact, the man gave the keys to the repo man and was allowed to get his stuff out of the truck before it was towed away.

Andrew James Petrie, 28, is slated for arraignment Oct. 22 in Spokane County Superior Court.

On March 1, 2012, Petrie bought a 2000 Toyota Tacoma pickup from a Spokane car dealer. He paid with a personal check for $8,280. But the check was returned; Petrie's bank account had been closed.

The dealership said it gave Petrie two chances to pay for the truck, then sent a repo man to Petrie's mother's house. Petrie came out of the house, handed over a key to the truck, and was allowed to retrieve his personal items before the truck was towed away.

About three hours later, Petrie called Safeco Insurance and said the vehicle had been stolen from a different home. He said the thief had first broken the truck's back window, trying to take the sound system out. He later said that a construction company's trailer had been attached to the truck, and was also stolen.

A Safeco investigator checked with the dealership, and with the construction company. The insurer denied the claim, and notified our Special Investigations Unit that it suspected fraud. After investigating further, our office asked the state attorney general's office to file charges.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Average annual premiums for health insurance

Was looking through the latest annual Kaiser Family Foundation report on health insurance premiums this morning and came across this chart. Yikes.

These are nationwide averages. The report has a number of other interesting charts and data, summarized here. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dental insurance: Where to find it, or how to find free/low-cost care if you can't afford it

We hear from a lot of consumers who want to buy dental insurance on their own, without getting it through an employer. Many companies -- and here's a list -- sell dental insurance directly to Washington state consumers.

When we hear from people who want to buy dental insurance on their own, they often wonder whether there are any particular questions they should ask the insurance company. Here are some suggestions:
• Is your current dentist in the dental plan’s network?
• What benefits does the plan provide? (If you don’t know, ask the company for a copy of the policy. They have to give you a copy if you specifically ask.)
• Does the plan have a waiting period before it will cover pre-existing conditions? If so, how long is the waiting period?
For many people, dental insurance isn’t within their price range. Fortunately, there are a number of low-cost or no-cost dental programs, and the Department of Health has a list of those programs on its website.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I ride a motorcycle. Do I need insurance?

Motorcyles and mopeds are exempted from Washington mandatory vehicle insurance law, so no, there is no law requiring you to have coverage.

But here's why you may very well want to get it anyway: You are still liable from the state's financial responsibility law. Meaning that if you hit something/someone and it's your fault, it's your responsibility to pay for the damage. And since even a minor scrape or ding to another vehicle can cost hundreds of dollars to fix, state officials believe that many motorcycle owners in Washington voluntarily choose to carry coverage.

Also, if you financed your bike with a loan, your lender will almost certainly require coverage so the lender doesn't lose its money if the bike is wrecked/stolen/vandalized/etc.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Golf insurer in CT arrested for selling illegal insurance in WA

A Connecticut businessman who specializes in insurance for golf tournament hole-in-one prizes has been arrested in his home state after failing to appear for a felony arraignment in Seattle earlier this month.

Kevin Kolenda, 54, was arrested Wednesday in his hometown of Norwalk, Conn. He faces five counts of transacting insurance without a license, a class B felony.

"We've been warning the public about Mr. Kolenda's scam for years," Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a recent press release. "He has a long history of selling illegal insurance, refusing to pay prize winners, and thumbing his nose at regulators."

Kolenda was supposed to appear in court Sept. 5 for arraignment on those charges, but he failed to appear. So the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

Kolenda has ignored a previous cease and desist order from our office, as well as a $125,000 fine.

Update (9/28/2012): Added King5 video at top of post.

Why did you make my auto/homeowners insurance rates go up?

Q: My auto and homeowners insurance rates went up, and my agent and insurer said that it's because Washington state required them to charge more. Did you require this?

A: We get this question fairly often. While we do review rates for many kinds of insurance, no, we did not tell your auto/homeowners/etc. insurer to raise its rates. It's up to insurers to decide when, or if, they will submit proposals to us to increase or decrease rates. (In some cases, notably health coverage, insurers often reduce benefits in order to moderate rates hikes.)

Again: While we may review the rates, the insurance company is the one proposing any changes.

There are many insurers selling auto and homeowners policies in Washington. If your insurer is raising rates too high, maybe it's time to shop around. Need help? Here are some tips when shopping for auto coverage, and here are some tips when shopping for homeowners coverage.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Open enrollment for children ends Oct. 31

Do you need health insurance for your child? Open enrollment for individual health insurance for children is now underway. From Sept. 15-Oct. 31 you can buy an individual plan for your child or add them to your plan with out having to fill out a health questionnaire.

Under health reform, health plans can no longer deny children coverage if they have a pre-existing medical condition, but they can create open enrollment periods. Washington state has two annual enrollment periods: March 15-April 30 and Sept. 15-Oct. 31.

If you need coverage now, don't wait. You have until the end of Oct., but the sooner you enroll, the faster you'll get coverage.

The next open enrollment starts March 15. Here's a list of plans in the individual market by county and what to do if you miss the enrollment period.

Life insurance explainer: What are life settlements?

Life settlements are when you sell your life insurance policy to someone else. You get immediate cash, and they collect the value of the policy when you die.

There's a similar type of transaction, known as a viatical settlement, in which a terminally ill person sells his or her life insurance to someone else.

Both these types of transactions are mentioned as options in a notice that life insurers are required to send to some Washington policyholders.

According to a New York Times article published last month, the fast-growing life settlements business swelled to $12 billion in transactions by 2007, but has dropped off dramatically, with only $3.8 billion worth of policies changing hands in 2010. Life settlements brokers maintain, however, that with trillions of dollars in life insurance out there, the industry is still in its infancy.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Health insurers rebates

Q: I've read in the news that health insurers are having to send rebates to their customers because of health care reform. But I didn't get a rebate? What's going on?

A: Yes, we've heard from a number of folks that are wondering whether they're going to get a rebate. The rebates are from companies that aren't putting enough premium dollars toward actual medical care (as opposed to marketing, administrative costs, etc.).

Here in Washington, however, most companies are already spending a high percentage of your premium dollars on medical care. That's the good news. But that also means that few Washingtonians will get rebates. Here's more about the rebates and a state-by-state breakdown.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Consumer alert: Real Benefits Association

Consumer alert

An unlicensed company named "Real Benefits Association" may be offering bogus discount health care plans in Washington state.

Again: This company is not licensed to do business in Washington state.

We've heard from consumers who said they paid monthly premiums to the Real Benefits Association, believing that they would receive legitimate medical and prescription drug coverage, but to date, the company has paid none of the health care claims they submitted.

Real Benefits Association and its owner, David Clark, were issued a cease and desist order by our office in January 2010. They are operating in violation of that order by collecting premiums for bogus discount health care coverage from Washington state consumers.

Friday wildfire update: We're hearing that some insurers have stopped writing new policies in the fire areas

The AP is reporting that wildfires in central Washington have merged and now cover more than 47 square miles, with officials urging more than 100 homeowners north of Ellensburg and in the Liberty area to evacuate. Here is a checklist of things to do if a wildfire is approaching a home.

Crews are digging lines, using bulldozers and trying to douse the flames and protect structures with fire retardant dropped from aircraft. Here are maps showing the areas that are burning. The fire began Sept. 8th with a lightning strike near Cle Elum. 775 firefighters are on scene, but fire commanders this morning ranked both the terrain difficulty and growth potential of the blaze as "extreme."

We have heard a few reports from consumers that some homeowners' insurance companies have stopped approving new policies in areas close to the fires. Nobody wants to hear this if they're trying to close a deal on a home, for example, but insurers are allowed to suspend writing new policies in cases like this.

It's a common practice, for example, with earthquake insurers to stop writing policies after a quake, for fear of aftershocks. And flood insurance typically comes with a 30 day waiting period, to prevent people from waiting until the storm clouds are overhead before they buy coverage.

Several other fires are burning in the state. Most of the state is now at high or very high fire danger.

U.S. 97 in both directions is closing today from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from milepost 150 (at the junction of SR 970) to milepost 177 (8 miles south of the junction of U.S. 2) for back-burning and fire containment operations.

Update: (5:02 p.m.) Some insurers have also stopped writing new auto policies in certain Eastern Washington zip codes due to the fires.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday wildfire update

Firefighters are making good gains against eastern Washington wilfires, with the list down to five active blazes in Chelan, Yakima, Kittitas, Okanogan, Klickitat counties.

Here's the morning update from Washington Emergency Management Division.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Washington wildfire update

Firefighters are making big gains containing the state's eight major fires, according to the latest update from the Washington Emergency Management Division.

The 91,000-acre Barker Canyon fire in Douglas and Grant counties is 63 percent contained, and the 23,000-acre Apache Pass fire in Lincoln County is 80 percent contained.

Seven aircraft and more than 1,100 firefighters are still wrestling, however, with the large Wenatchee River fire in Chelan County, which is only 10 percent contained. It covers more than 28,000 acres. More than 850 homes and other structures are threatened by that blaze, according to the update.

So far, the number of homes lost in this latest wave of wildfires is just 3, although about 14 non-residential structures have also burned.

See the report above for more detail.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Washington state fire update

According to the state's Emergency Management Division, early 3,000 firefighters and more than a dozen aircraft are battling seven fires -- several of which involve multiple large individual blazes -- on more than 150,000 acres throughout the eastern part of the state.

The largest is the Barker Canyon fire in Douglas and Grant counties, which includes more than 91,000 acres and this morning was only 20 percent contained.

Then there's the 25,000-acre Wenatchee River fire in Chelan County, which is only 8 percent contained. And then there's Lincoln County's 24,500-acre Apache Pass fire, which is about 40 percent contained. Smaller fires are burning in Yakima, Kittitas, Ferry, Okanogan and Klickitat counties.

So far, only a few homes appear to have been lost to fire, although some other structures (barns, etc.) have also burned. About 600 homes are considered threatened by fire at this point. We have a number of important tips for fire victims making insurance claims.

More details on each fire, including evacuation information, is available in this document prepared by the EMD. And for the latest information, see the agency's list of fire updates.

And for anyone in fire-prone areas, please see these tips to protect your belongings and property.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New report: More than 740,000 homes nationwide at high or very high risk of wildfire

A private research firm, Corelogic, has produced a report estimating wildfire risk in 13 western states, including Washington.

The upshot: More than 740,000 homes are ranked as high risk or very high risk for wildfire damage. All told, those homes represent $136 billion in total property value, according to Corelogic. The states with the highest number of properties at risk at California, Colorado and Texas.

Here in Washington state, the company estimates, there are more than 9,000 homes at high or very high risk, with a combined value of $1.3 billion. The study also takes a closer look at several high-value metropolitan areas with high fire risk, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Boulder.

The report is free, although you have to register to read or download it.

It comes on the heels of a July statement by specialized insurer Lloyd's, which predicted "more frequent and severe wildfires as a result of climate change." Lloyd's warned that traditional risk assessment and pricing by insurers could understate the actual fire (and financial) risk.

"I own a business, but don't offer health coverage. Will I be penalized in 2014?"

Starting in 2014, under federal health care reform, some employers who fail to offer affordable health coverage to their employees will have to pay penalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee.

Small businesses won't be affected. Under the law, if an employer has fewer than 50 employees, the penalties do not apply. (If you have 25 or fewer workers and average wages up to $50,000, your company may be eligible for a health insurance tax credit to help offer coverage to your workers.)

If you're a medium- or large employer, though, you could be hit with the penalty unless you offer employees affordable coverage.

So what's affordable? The Kaiser Family Foundation has built this simple flowchart to determine what qualifies as affordable health coverage and what doesn't. It also explains which penalties apply in each case.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Good news: We're back online

We've got our website back online. Thanks for your patience.

Our website's down; we're working to fix it

Our agency website ( is currently down, due to a major network problem affecting multiple state agencies.

Even if you can access the site, you won't be able conduct transactions or do use our other online applications.

We and others are working hard to resolve the problem.

Who will have to pay a penalty for not having health coverage?

If federal health care reform takes effect as planned in 2014, some people will pay a penalty of $95 if they do not have health coverage. (This is what's known as the individual mandate.)

And the penalties would get bigger. In 2015, it would be $325. In 2016 and beyond, it would be $695.

But will you have to pay?

For most people, the answer's no. There are a number of exemptions. There's a religious exemption, for example. Members of Indian tribes are exempt. Very poor individuals and families -- such as a family living on less than $18,700 a year) are exempt. So are those that have to pay more than 8 percent of their income  for health insurance.

Also, most people already have coverage that already satisfies the requirement. If you're on Medicare, for example, there's no penalty. If you're on TRICARE (the health plan for members of the military, retirees and their families), there's no penalty. If you get coverage through the VA, through your employer, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Program, there's no penalty.

The Kaiser Family Foundation offers an excellent, simple flowchart that lays this out in more detail. It includes estimates on the cost of insurance through the new health care exchanges, and a link to a KFF online calculator to help figure out premiums and tax credits to help you buy coverage.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My neighbor damaged my back yard, but won't file an insurance claim. What can I do?

Q: My neighbor damaged my back yard as the result of one of his do-it-yourself projects. Now he won't turn in a claim to his insurer. And he won't tell me who his insurer is. What can I do?

A: We get variations on this question a lot. Common ones involve a neighbor driving over a mailbox or into a fence. And we periodically get calls from people wondering if we have a database listing who insures who. (We don't.)

First, try to deal directly with your neighbor to get him to pay for the damage. If he's worried that the claim will drive up his premiums (or lead to his policy being cancelled), he may still be willing to compensate you for the sake of the relationship and to stave off the possibility of your taking him to court.

If that doesn't work, you can contact your agent or insurer to see if the damage is covered on your own policy. Or you could decide to take legal action against the neighbor, either in small claims or a higher court.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Medical worker sentenced to year in jail, $472k in insurance fraud case

Here's a press release we issued a few minutes ago:

A medical worker who pretended to be a doctor and submitted millions of dollars in bogus bills to insurance companies has been sentenced to a year in jail and $472,458 in restitution.

Kenneth R. Welling, 45, of Lake Forest Park, was sentenced Aug. 24 in King County Superior Court. He pleaded guilty to seven felony counts of theft in June.

“We found numerous cases in which Welling billed for surgeries that never happened,” said state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Kreidler’s office was tipped off to the scam when a patient complained, saying that Welling had tried to bill her insurer $89,000 for six surgeries that never took place.

Welling is a registered surgical technologist and sole proprietor of Shoreline, Wash.-based Alpine Surgical Services. His license allows him to perform tasks like preparing supplies and instruments, passing them to the surgeon and preparing basic sterile packs and trays. But after patients had procedures done, he would often submit large bills with codes listing himself as a doctor or physician’s assistant. He is neither. Sometimes he would include post-operative reports, listing himself as the surgeon.

No evidence was found to indicate that Welling was playing an improper role in actual medical care. The fraud involved billing.

“As far as we could tell, the only time he pretended to be a doctor was when he submitted bills,” said Kreidler.

In one woman’s case, Welling billed $140,323 as assisting surgeon for nine surgeries that never took place. Over a five-year period, he billed another woman’s insurer 107 times for 51 different surgeries, listing himself as the primary doctor. Hospital records show she’d only had surgery twice.

From 2004 through 2011, according to medical records obtained by Kreidler’s Special Investigations Unit, Welling billed five insurance companies at least $4.1 million for services he did not provide. He was paid $461,000.

“Part of the reason he got away with this for so long is that he’d rarely challenge an insurer who paid little or nothing,” said Kreidler. “He’d just send them the bills and hope they’d pay.”

Interesting story about how the Apollo 11 astronauts got life insurance

NPR has posted an interesting story about how the Apollo 11 astronauts sort of self-insured their lives when they headed for the moon.

Rather than try to get conventional life insurance, the three astronauts spent their spare moments during their month of pre-launch quarantine signing autographed envelopes, according to NPR's Chana Joffe-Walt. That way, if they died on their lunar adventure, their families could sell the autographs, which today command up to $30,000 at auction.

To make the autographs more valuable, each was on an envelope that a friend would have postmarked on key days, like the launch date and the date they landed on the moon. Writes Joffe-Walt:
It was life insurance in the form of autographs.
"If they did not return from the moon, their families could sell them — to not just fund their day-to-day lives, but also fund their kids' college education and other life needs," (space historian Robert) Pearlman said.
The life insurance autographs were not needed. Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon and came home safely. They signed probably tens of thousands more autographs for free.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sept. 13 hearing set re: Sagicor Life's acquisition of PEMCO Life

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. at his Tumwater, Wash. office to consider approval of Sagicor Life Insurance Company's request to acquire Washington-based PEMCO Life Insurance Company.

Sagicor Life is proposing to acquire all outstanding stock of PEMCO Life Insurance Company, and is also proposing to merge PEMCO Life with and into Sagicor Life at a later date after receiving approval of the acquisition.

PEMCO Life Insurance Company, which has been a Washington-based insurer since 1963, provides life and disability products to approximately 15 thousand Washington individual and group policyholders, and is wholly owned by its parent company, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company. PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company is a mutual property and casualty insurer located in Seattle, WA and is licensed in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

Sagicor Life is a Texas-based insurer licensed in Texas to offer accident, health and life insurance and has been authorized to conduct life and disability insurance in Washington since 1961. Sagicor Life operates primarily in the US and is wholly-owned by Sagicor Financial Corporation. Sagicor Financial Corp. is a Barbados corporation which operates internationally in various European and Caribbean countries, and is publicly traded on the Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and London Stock Exchanges. Sagicor Financial Corp. had $142.6 million in US revenue in 2011, $1.35 billion in total revenue (both US and international) and 632,123 individual life policies in-force overall. As of December 31, 2011, Sagicor Financial Corp.’s consolidated stockholders’ equity was $797.5 million.

For more information, including how to submit letters of support or objection, please see the hearing notice.

Insurance tips: What to know before renting your home/boat/etc.

We get a number of calls from folks who rent out their homes, vacation cabins, vacant lakefront sites, boats, RVs, motorcycles, etc. to others every once in a while. They want to know if that affects their insurance.

It very well could. Here's why: When property is rented, that's considered a business activity. And that can affect any existing coverage for property damage and liability protection.

There may also be coverage limitations or exclusions built into the policy that activated by your renting the property.

We recommend that you talk to your agent or the insurer before you rent, so you're not left personally responsible for property damage costs or legal costs in a lawsuit stemming from renting the property.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do I have "minimal essential" insurance coverage?

As part of health care reform, starting in January 2014 most Americans will need to have “minimum essential” health insurance coverage or face a tax penalty.

We've gotten a number of calls from consumers wondering if their current health coverage qualifies. (In particular, a number of people who get their medical care through the Veterans Administration have called to check.)

In many cases, the answer is yes. Many existing plans qualify as minimal essential health insurance coverage. Here are some examples:
• Medicare Part A

• Health programs administered by Washington state (such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program)

• TriCare

• Coverage through the Veteran’s Administration

• Coverage from an employer, regardless of whether the employer is a government agency, a private-sector employer, or an Indian tribe.

• A individual plan (i.e. a plan that you buy on your own directly from a health insurance company).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

“Hole-in-Won” Golf tournament insurer charged with felonies after not paying up

OLYMPIA, Wash. _ A Connecticut businessman who specializes in insurance for golf tournament hole-in-one prizes has been charged with multiple felonies after repeatedly failing to pay up.

Kevin Kolenda, of Norwalk, Conn., was charged Wednesday in King County Superior Court with five counts of transacting insurance without a license, a class B felony. His arraignment is slated for Sept. 5.

Kolenda, 54, ignored a previous cease-and-desist order and a $125,000 fine from state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

“We’ve been warning the public about Mr. Kolenda’s scam for years,” said Kreidler, whose Special Investigations Unit did the investigation that led to the charges. “He has a long history of selling illegal insurance, refusing to pay prize winners, and thumbing his nose at regulators.”

In some cases, charities have had to come up with the prize money. In others, the prize winners agreed to forego a prize.

Kolenda in 1995 started a business called Golf Marketing, working out of a home his parents owned in Norwalk. Since then, the business’ name has changed several times, including: Golf Marketing Worldwide LLC, Golf Marketing Inc.,, and currently Worldwide. The company also has a regional office in Rye, N.Y.

Kolenda has repeatedly failed to pay winning golfers in Washington. Among them:

• In 2003, Kolenda illegally sold insurance for a tournament in Bremerton. But when a golfer got a hole in one and tried to claim the $10,000 prize, Kolenda wouldn’t pay.
• In 2004, Kolenda sold insurance for a Vancouver tournament. Again, a golfer got a hole in one. Kolenda refused to pay the $50,000 prize. After a hearing at which Kolenda failed to appear, he was ordered in 2008 to pay a $125,000 fine. He never did.
• In 2010, Kolenda sold coverage to pay $25,000 for a hole in one during a golf tournament in Snohomish. A player got a hole in one. His golf partners signed notarized forms attesting to the hole in one. The prize remains unpaid, despite numerous calls and emails from the partners and tournament officials.
Similar allegations have been made against Mr. Kolenda and/or his business in numerous other states, including Montana, Ohio, Georgia, California, New York, Hawaii, Alabama, Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Auto accidents have decreased. Why did my insurance rates go up?"

Q: I read that auto accidents in Washington state have decreased, as have accident-related deaths. But my insurance premium just went up 15 percent. What's going on?

A: As Washington state's insurance regulator, we do our best to hold down insurance costs. But there are things other than accident rates that can affect your auto insurance premiums. Theft rates, auto glass costs, health care costs (for injuries in a crash) can all play a role. So can the fact that modern vehicles, with more airbags, high-strength steel and sophisticated safety features can be more expensive to repair.

Rates are driven by insurers' actual claim payments, administration costs and the company's cost and loss projections for the near future.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why it's important to read "whole life" policy annual statements

Q: I just got the annual statement for my "whole life" insurance policy. Should I just toss this, or do I really need to read this thing?

A: You should read it. Here's why: With whole life insurance, the monthly cost of insurance increases as you get older. If you have a loan against your policy, or if you chose a low premium option, then at some point the current level of premiums won't be enough to keep the policy in effect, and it will end.

By reading your policy's annual statement on a regular basis, you'll be able to increase the amount you're paying in premiums so that you can prevent this from happening.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Former state insurance commissioner Dick Marquardt has died

Dick Marquardt Sr., who served as the state's insurance commissioner from 1977 to 1993, died Aug. 9th in Seattle.

Idaho-born Marquardt was the 6th of the eight people who've served as insurance commissioner since 1909. He was a University of Washington graduate, served in the Army during World War II, and worked as a longtime fuel-oil company executive.

He was appointed by then-Gov. Dan Evans to head the state's selective service system, and he also served a term as state senator representing District 45 in King County.

He served four terms as insurance commissioner, and continued to work as a consultant well into his 80s. He was an avid golfer, and loved baseball.

There's a long and touching obituary in the Seattle Times. From it:
Dick was the beloved patriarch of his large family. He was a devoted and proud husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather.
A private service is planned at a later date.

Also from the obituary:
He leaves behind a legacy of integrity, hard work, humor, unconditional love, and pure enjoyment of the good things in life. He will be greatly missed by all who were lucky enough to know him. Dad, you were unforgettable.

Insurance claims help, donations, and other resources re: the Taylor Bridge wildfire

As fire crews work to rein in the Taylor Bridge fire, some families are being allowed back in to check on their homes, dozens of which have been lost in the first this week. Here are some tips and resources for those who lost property in the blaze.

  • Kittitas County Emergency Services is collecting information on the amount of losses in order to determine if federal disaster assistance will be available. Whether insured or not, it's important that the losses be documented. (Note: The website seems to be offline or overwhelmed; we've had a lot of difficulty opening the page this morning.)

  • According to the DOT, the contractor on the bridge project has set up a process for claims that potentially would be addressed by the contractor's insurer. The phone number provided by the contractor is 1-800-238-6225 for Travelers Insurance.

  • Insurance claims: For those with insurance, we have these tips about how homeowners and others can expedite their insurance claims. It's important to know that many standard homeowners' policies include some coverage for living expenses -- like a motel -- for folks who lose their homes. That's definitely something to check with your insurer or agent right away. And save receipts for everything, including meals and laundry, that might be relevant. If you need help or run into problems with your insurer, call us at 1-800-562-6900 or email us at and we'll do our best to help.

  • For those seeking updates or emergency shelter information, the state Emergency Management Division has information. Governor Gregoire has proclaimed a state of emergency in both Kittitas and Yakima counties to free up additional firefighting resources. 

  • If you want to make donations to the many fire victims -- including livestock that had to be evacuated -- please see this donation information from the state Emergency Management Division. It sounds like donation sites have been overwhelmed with stuff; they're now asking that people consider donating money instead. The link above includes numerous local and state organizations trying to help the fire victims.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is it possible to OVER-insure my home?

Yes. If you think your home is over-insured, ask your agent or insurer when they last made a replacement cost calculation specific to your home. These are done by insurers to figure out what it would cost if they had to rebuild your home after a major covered loss. (Like your home burning down.) If the information used in the calculation is wrong, you can end up with an insured value that's too low or too high.

Your tax assessment value, by the way, is not the value used for insurance purposes. The insurer needs to use a value that reflects an actual and realistic rebuild cost.

Also, your home insurance policy should not have the value of the land included as part of the dwelling coverage. Land is not considered to be insurable property on a home policy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wildfire near Cle Elum has reportedly burned 60 homes

A wildfire near Cle Elum, Wash. has reportedly burned 60 homes and 26,000 acres, with summer dryness and high winds making firefighters' jobs difficult.

The Seattle Times has posted some pretty scary photos of local homeowners and ranchers watching the wildfire approach. And the North Kittitas County Tribune is posting a running log of fire news, including a phone number for local evacuation information. The state has also activated its emergency operations center.

Our hearts go out to the victims, and we're monitoring the situation closely. Fire victims should contact their insurer or agent as soon as possible to start the claims process. Many policies include some coverage for emergency shelter, such as motels, if a home is uninhabitable. Our consumer advocacy staff (1-800-562-6900) will be available to help fire victims if they have trouble filing insurance claims.

Here are some more tips:
  • Cooperate fully with the insurer. Ask what documents forms and data you'll need to file a claim. Keep a journal of all conversations, including who you talked with and when.
  • Ask your insurer about additional living expenses if your home is destroyed. Save all relevant receipts.
  • Take photos or video of the damage.
  • If there's a disagreement about a claim, talk to the insurer. Ask the company to cite specific language in the policy. If you need help, call our office at 1-800-562-6900.
  • If the insurer's offer seems too low, be prepared to negotiate to get a fair settlement.
If you're not affected by the blaze but live in a wildfire-prone area -- and much of the eastern part of the state is very dry right now -- here's a list of tips to prepare and protect your home.

And here's a handy pdf document that will help you get started on a home inventory, which can be a big help in filing an insurance claim after a disaster. You can also use a video camera or one of several smartphone apps to do the same thing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You bought a new car? How soon do you need to tell your insurance company?

Q: I bought a new car a week ago, but I didn't want to call my insurance company yet, since I know my premium will go up. How long can I wait?

A: Do not wait. We're not kidding about this. Some auto insurance policies limit automatic coverage for a new or replacement vehicle to 14 days after purchase. Some others allow up to 30 days.

Here's why it's not worth the risk: If you wreck your new car and your claim is denied, you'll be out a lot more money than you saved on the premium.

The upshot: immediately contact your agent or insurer to add the vehicle and update your coverage.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Woman charged with insurance fraud after pawning ring and claiming it was lost

A Snohomish County Woman has been charged for claiming that she'd lost a diamond ring that she had actually pawned.

The Attorney General's Office has chaged Laura Anne Dunn with attempted first-degree theft and insurance fraud. Arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 23 in Snohomish County Superior Court.

In January, Dunn told her insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance, that she'd lost her ring during a New Year's Eve stay at a casino. The ring was valued at more than $9,000.

Investigators for Liberty Mutual checked with the casino's security staff, which had no record of Dunn reporting her ring missing. They asked Dunn to provide a number of records, including all photographs taken during her stay at the casino.

The investigators also checked pawnshop records. They discovered that Dunn had actually pawned the ring back in September 2011. In fact, the ring was still at the pawnshop until she picked it up in mid-March 2012.

Two weeks after she filed the claim, Dunn sent a note to Liberty Mutual.

"I have been extremely lucky," she wrote, saying that she'd found the ring snagged in a glove. "...Thanks for your time and effort on my behalf."

The following day, the insurer's investigators visited a local pawnshop, where they found and photographed the ring that Dunn had reported missing. They closed the claim and reported the case to Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's Special Investigations Unit, which specializes in insurance fraud cases.

Update: On Dec. 19, 2012, Dunn pleaded guilty to attempted first degree theft. She was sentenced to 80 hours of community service and $600 in costs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Hobo Prince Economic Project" founder fined $1 million by Oregon regulators

Back in April, we issued a cease and desist order against Shelby H. Bell, a man who runs the "Hobo Prince Economic Project."

The Clark County, Wash. man was promising people seven years' worth of weekly $900 payouts in exchange for a $25 signup fee. He maintained that each person’s contract would be financed through a complex series of transactions, including issuance of a $500,000 “reverse” insurance policy purchased with a $25,000 payment from an unnamed bank.

Since he wasn't licensed to transact insurance at all in Washington, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler ordered Bell to stop trying to sign people up for this highly dubious offer. (We subsequently received numerous calls from people across the country who'd signed up for the plan and blamed us for dashing their hopes of a big payout.)

Yesterday, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services fined Bell $1 million, saying that none of Bell's investors have apparently made any money.

"Bell in less than a year attracted more than $187,000 from at least 7,480 people in multiple states and U.S. territories," the department said in a press release, accusing Bell of "offering false hope to thousands of people."

"Bell claimed to be worth billions with backing from the U.S. Treasury through an International Bill of Exchange, which actually has no value," Oregon regulators continued. "Also, investigators determined that Bell used investors’ money to pay for food, movie tickets, a vehicle, and other personal expenses."

Here's a link to Oregon's order.

What's the "Washington Fair Plan?"

Q: My home (or business) insurance has been canceled, and the cancellation notice refers to the Washington Fair Plan. What is that?

A: The Washington Fair Plan was established in 1968 to provide basic property insurance to consumers who could not obtain property insurance in the voluntary, or standard insurance market. Although many years have passed and the home insurance market of today offers many options for home insurance, the Fair Plan still exists and functions under the rules and regulations of our office.

Participation in this program is mandatory for all property insurers in Washington. All companies writing property insurance are members of the Fair Plan. Every insurance agent or broker who is licensed to write property insurance in Washington is required to know about and help consumers if they want the services of the Fair Plan.

The Fair Plan application may only be completed by a licensed insurance agent, and must be signed by the agent and the applicant. Basic fire insurance coverage may be provided for dwelling and commercial risks.

Although you will need to have a licensed insurance agent file an application on your behalf, you may still get coverage information directly from the FAIR Plan.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How long can an insurance company take to investigate an auto claim?

Q: Another driver hit my car last weekend, and I haven't been paid yet. How long does an insurer have to investigate and pay my claim?

A: Generally, when a claim is uncompliated (no injuries, not a large number of witnesses, no specialized reports needed), 30 days is considered to be a reasonable time frame to investigate and make coverage decisions.

This is true whether you've made the claim against your own insurer or someone else's. Many claims are investigated and paid within 30 days.

Sometimes -- particularly in complex property damage or injury claims -- it can take longer to agree on a settlement. But you should expect reasonable promptness getting answers to your questions during the process.

You can help expedite things by providing requested information, giving statements and answering questions promptly. And if things drag on too long and you live in Washington state, you can file a complaint with our office. (We're the state agency that regulates the insurance industry in Washington.)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Auto insurance and diminished value

Scenario: Your car is struck by another driver, who is at fault. His insurer pays for the repairs, but you believe that your vehicle -- since it has been in a wreck -- is worth less than it was before the crash.

Can you demand that the insurer compensates you for that diminished value?

Yes, but it can be difficult to prove. Diminished value can be part of a claim, but it is up to the claimant -- that's you, in the scenario above -- to prove that the value of the vehicle is diminished after the repairs have been completed.

Doing that may mean getting dealer testimony or an appraisal showing the value of the vehicle before the accident and after the repairs.

Our office, unfortunately, cannot force insurers to pay diminished value claims. You may need to seek legal advice to negotiate a settlement.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What does personal injury protection cover?

Here in Washington state, auto insurance policies commonly offer personal injury protection, widely known as PIP. You can opt to add it your auto coverage. If you're in an auto accident, it will help pay for certain costs, up to certain limits.

Like what? It helps pay for:
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Lost services
  • and funeral expenses.

But there are some things that it won't cover. For example, PIP coverage doesn't cover injuries caused when using:
  • Farm equipment
  • Off-road vehicles
  • Mopeds
  • Injuries sustained while racing
  • Or injuries sustained while committing a felony.

Also -- and this is important -- PIP coverage does not cover services that your insurer decides:
  • Are not reasonable
  • Are not necessary
  • Are not related to the accident
  • or are not incurred within three years of the accident.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Contacted by a life insurance company that says you're a beneficiary?

It may not be the scam it sounds like.

We've been hearing a lot lately from consumers who've received letters from life insurance companies saying that they're the beneficiary on a long-deceased loved one's policy.

The letters often include a form that the consumers need to fill out to receive the money, and the form requires them to provide sensitive personal information.

Not surprisingly, many consumers have been skeptical about these letters. But while it may sound too good to be true, the letters may be legitimate. (Keep reading and we'll tell you how to check.)

Here's the background: Until recently, many large life insurers didn't aggressively research whether policyholders had died, even when the person's date of birth suggested that they were almost certainly dead. (This isn't as easy as it sounds, particularly with records that predate the widespread use of social security numbers as an identifier.) Last year, insurance regulators and consumer groups started challenging the insurers to do a better job.

As a result, many life insurers have started checking the names of policyholders against the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. When the companies find an apparent match, they contact the person/s listed as the beneficiary.

But how to be sure that the letter is real? If you live in Washington state, you can contact us at 1-800-562-6900 or reach us 24/7 via our online complaint and information form. We'll get in touch with our contact person at the insurance company who can verify that the letter you received is legitimate.

If you don't live in Washington, here's the contact information for your own state's insurance regulator, who may be able to help.