Archive for January, 2010

16 Months Later: Hurricane Ike Claims Still Being Paid

January 31st, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in flood insurance, homeowners insurance

The Texas Insurance Council has issued an update on the financial aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which struck Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008 calling it “the costliest weather catastrophe in Texas history by a large margin.” So far, the storm has toted up almost $12 billion in windstorm and flood insurance claims in the state. The windstorm portion of that number accounts for $9.8 billion, while the rest is due to flood insurance claims – almost 44,000 of them were filed after Hurricane Ike.

Much of the flood damage was due to the storm’s 16-foot surge, which destroyed businesses and homes on Bolivar Peninsula, as well as several communities surrounding Galveston Bay, along the Texas coastline, and inland from Orange to Freeport. In addition, more than half of Galveston Island was submerged by the rising water. Fortunately human loss was low – only 20 deaths were directly attributable to the storm, mostly from drowning, because the coastal residents took a lesson from Hurricane Katrina, and actually followed evacuation orders from the National Weather Service.

The Texas Department of Insurance reported that there were more than 800,000 windstorm claims from Hurricane Ike. Sixteen months after the fact, one insurer, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, is still receiving damage claims. Eventually, TWIA is expected to pay out almost $2 billion in Ike-related claims.

Texas wasn’t the only state heavily damaged by Hurricane Ike. The path of the hurricane after landfall took it up the Intersate 35 corridor, where it settled over the midwest dumping inches of rain, and causing more damage. In addition, neighboring state Louisiana reported $318 million in flood losses, while hurricane-force winds in Ohio created insured losses in excess of $1 billion, making it the costliest weather disaster in that state, as well.

While wind damage is generally covered by homeowners insurance, flood damage is not. Coastal residents in states like Texas and Florida are urged to examine their policies now, check to see if they live in flood zones where mandatory flood insurance is required, and update their coverage as necessary.

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Auto Insurance for Pets: a Growing Trend

January 28th, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in auto insurance, pet insurance

As animal lovers, most of us take good care of our pets: we feed them the best pet food available, make sure they get ample exercise and attention, train them to have good “house manners,” and make sure they’re adequately restrained when coming along for the ride in our cars or trucks. Until relatively recently, though, if our pet dogs or cats were injured during a stint as passenger, they were only covered as part of the “personal property” allowance in auto insurance policies.

It’s only in the last few years that insurance companies began to question what happens when pets are injured in car accidents, and Progressive Insurance was the first to do something about it, by included pet coverage as an option on their auto policies.

Since Progressive’s trend-starting move, USA Today reports that three other insurers have jumped on the pet coverage bandwagon, offering insurance of $500-$1,000 for pets killed or injured in traffic accidents, all at no extra cost to their customers, and with almost 200 million licensed drivers across the country (according to numbers provided by the Federal Highway Administration), people like Lori Conarton of the Insurance Institute of Michigan believe the market will become more and more competitive. “If other companies find that people want this type of coverage,” Conarton said, “they’re going to want to start offering it, too.”

So which insurers offer pet accident coverage?

Progressive was the first, rolling out their options in sthe summer of 2007. Miriam Dietcher, the company’s director of marketing explains, “We did it because we know how much our customers love their dogs and cats,” Deitcher says. “At first we provided $500 worth of coverage, but in March [2009], we increased that to $1,000, to make sure we’re covering even more.”

Auto-Owners Insurance and Farmers Insurance also offer coverage for pets injured in traffic accidents. “We estimate more than 63% of our customers have pets, and caring for them after an accident can be expensive,” said Farmers senior vice president Brian Dwyer.

And what about people whose insurance is with a carrier that does not offer pet policies? They can still file a claim under property damage, but it’s important to remember that what insurance companies consider legitimate property damage differs from state to state and insurer to insurer, and it’s not at all unusual for such claims to be denied.

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Faith Based Insurance? Be Careful

January 27th, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in advice and how-tos, alternative health plans

At a time when many eyes and ears are focused on Washington, D.C. and a final (at least for now) verdict on health care reform, hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians are choosing another alternative. It’s called a faith-based health plan and while it can save you money on major medical expenses, there are a few things you should know.

As reported by ABC News last September, if you belong to a Christian health plan, members cover each other’s major medical bills via monthly donations to the plan, and they must donate even if they never set foot in a doctor’s office in a given month.

To join, you must be an evangelical Christian who goes to church, and you must promise not to smoke, drink heavily, or have sex outside of marriage, and you must be approved by your minister or pastor.

The catch is that there are no guarantees that your medical bills will be paid, because these plans are not regulated by the government, and technically, they’re also not insurance. ABC’s reporters discovered that some of these plan advisors have spent members’ money on cars, houses, and travel, while others, since they are operated on a cash-flow basis, can only pay out based on whatever cash is on hand.

Finally, there are the other caveats: faith based health plans generally don’t cover contraceptives, do not cover abortion (even if it’s medically necessary) and often won’t cover AIDS treatment, even though AIDS can be, and often is, contracted by heterosexual patients.

The bottom line? Join all the prayer circles you want, find another way to donate to your church and be involved in your faith community, and if you think you’re likely to have major medical expenses, stick with conventional insurance.


Auto Insurance Increases in Canada and UK, Too

January 26th, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in auto insurance, insurance news

It may seem as if the United States is the only country suffering from a dire economic situation. Our auto insurance premiums rose in almost every state this year, as did our homeowners insurance premiums. However, we are not alone; what affects us, tends to affect the world at large. In 2009, Canada and the United Kingdom of Great Britain also saw rate increases.

On January 15th, the Canadian Press reported that the Finance Services Commission of Ontario approved increased auto insurance rates in the last quarter of 2009 that averaged 2.5%, while the overall increase for all of last year was 8.77% – a much sharper increase than 2008′s rate hike of 5.6%, and a significant change from the period from 2004-2006 where auto insurance rates in Canada actually went down.

Representatives of the Canadian government are quick to remind their constituents that current rates are roughly the same as they were in 2003, and that there are planned changes to auto insurance pricing that will go into effect this summer, and help stabilize costs and premiums.

If the nearly 9% increase in Canada has consumers worried, be glad you’re not in the UK. According to the Glasgow Daily Record, pricing in parts of the UK has increased to $564.19 pounds/year – almost 20% more than it was at this time a year ago, with young drivers (those aged 17-24) seeing an increase of nearly 25%, to an average annual premium of $1499 pounds.

The Daily Record gets its figures from the Consumer Intelligence market research firm, which also says that the smallest increases in insurance are in the premiums paid by mature drivers – those over the age of 65 – whose increases have been a mere 15%.

Overall, the average increase in the last year has been 20.1 percent for male drivers in the UK, and 19.1 percent for female drivers.

Ian Hughes, managing director for Consumer Intelligence, told the Daily Record, “The advent of price comparison websites had actually kept a lid on car insurance premiums for some time. But these figures show the upward pressure on pricing has well and truly broken through. The worry is this could result in more motorists choosing not to insure their vehicles and drive illegally, or feel that they can no longer afford to run a car.”

It would seem that the adage “times are tough all over,” is truly universal, at least when it comes to auto insurance premiums. How do you save money? The answer’s the same whether you live in Canada, the UK, or the United States: shop online, compare quotes, and ask for discounts.

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COBRA Subsidy Extension Continues

January 25th, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in cobra insurance, health insurance

If you’re currently using the existence of COBRA health insurance law to maintain insurance coverage after you’ve been laid off or fired, you’ll be glad to know that Congress ended weeks of uncertainty in late December, giving final approval to President Obama to sign into law a Department of Defense bill that included provisions to extend COBRA premium subsidies.

According to an article at, the measure, H.R. 3326, extended a 65% premium subsidy, originally established via an economic stimulus measure passed early in 2009, by six to fifteen months for employees who were “involuntarily terminated” from their jobs between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. In addition, any workers who lose their jobs before February 28, 2010 will also be eligible for a 15-month subsidy. Without the extension, employees terminated after December 31st, 2009 would not have been eligible.

The extension of the subsidy is expected to offer significant financial relief to employees who lose their jobs and group health insurance during the first two months of this year, as well as the many workers who have already collected the subsidy for the past nine months, and were no longer eligible or were about to lose their eligibility to receive it.

Representative Joe Sestak (D – Pennsylvania) said in a statement to the press, “Losing one job’s is difficult enough. But losing one’s health care along with it and worrying about being able to get treatment for oneself and one’s family, or fearing bankruptcy in the event of injury or illness is something Americans should not have to cope with in this difficult time.” Sestak had previously introduced a COBRA premium subsidy extension measure, part of which was included in the military spending bill passed in December.

This new COBRA subsidy extension may not be the last such extension, however, especially if unemployment numbers continue to remain high. While statistics on how many laid-off employees are taking the subsidy is not available, a congressional Joint Committee on Taxation report, generated after approval of the original subsidy, contained estimates that about 7 million workers and their families would benefit, at a total cost of $25 billion. Another survey found that COBRA enrollment rates surged after the creation of the subsidy, with opt-in rates nearly doubling as a result.

From September 1, 2008 – February 28, 2009, roughly 19% of involuntarily terminated employees were enrolled in COBRA. In contrast, from March 1, 2009 when the subsidy became available, through November 30, 2009, the original expiration date, enrollment rates were averaging about 39%.

The subsidy reduces insurance premiums from roughly $400 (for an individual) to $1200 (for a family) to $260 (for an individual) to $780 (for a family) – a significant savings for people who no longer have a regular source of income.

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In an Accident? What Should You Do?

January 22nd, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in advice and how-tos, auto insurance

According to a survey done by a British auto insurance firm, up to 45% of commercial van drivers don’t exchange the required information when they’re in an accident, whether it’s serious or not.

Here in the United States, the statistics may not be quite so scary, but a significant number of drivers have found themselves sitting behind the wheel after a minor bump, wondering, should I report this fender bender?

The answer, probably unsurprisingly is “yes.” Why? Because if you don’t you leave yourself open to a lawsuit, or other financial repercussions.

If you are in an accident, even if it’s minor, what should you do?

  1. Call the police, if you’re required to do so in your state.
  2. If your cars are driveable, move them out of the roadway.
  3. Exchange your information with the other driver. This should include your insurance company information and phone number, as well as your name, address, and phone number. Make sure you get the same information in return. Also, take note of the license plate number of the other car.
  4. If there are any witnesses, get their information, too.
  5. If you have a camera on your phone, or have an actual camera in your car, take pictures of the scene, and any damage.
  6. Be sure to call your insurance company.
  7. If the police are called, cooperate fully with them.

Whatever you do, remain calm. If the accident is just a fender-bender, yelling at the other driver is only going to make things worse; if it’s really more serious, you’ll need to remain as rational as possible. Finally, it’s important that you never claim to be at-fault, even if you think you are. Instead, let the police and insurance companies work out the details.

- Get evidence – Use your camera phone to take photos

- Ensure you notify the police and your own insurance company

Phil Moss, Commercial Vehicle Manager at Swinton van insurance said: “Sub-zero temperatures across the UK are resulting in icy driving conditions which always increase the risk of an accident. Vehicle collisions can be very traumatic and the stress of the situation means people fail to take down the required information. It’s important that you take down all the details of the other driver, especially both their mobile and home telephone numbers as well as their insurance company details.


Don’t Fear the Life Insurance Medical Exam

January 21st, 2010 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in health insurance, insurance facts, life insurance

Horror stories abound about life insurance medical exams. Smokers, you may have heard, never pass, and you don’t have to just be within normal weight ranges, but actually skinny or you get disqualified. We won’t even discuss the rumors about what happens if you took an antihistamine the day before you provided your blood or urine sample. With all these myths about what can cause you to be labeled “uninsurable” it’s no wonder people who are generally healthy are paying higher no-exam life insurance rates just to avoid being told “no.”

The reality is that if you’re reasonably healthy you have nothing to worry about when it comes to these exams. They’re fairly routine, and don’t take that long. Typically, they’ll include blood and urine samples, a blood pressure check, height and weight measurements, and a medical questionnaire. While people who are overweight, smoke, or are in poor health will generally end up being classified as “high risk” and paying higher premiums, most people have little to worry about.

Still, it pays to be prepared, so while you can’t exactly cram for a medical exam, there are a few things you can do to present yourself in the best possible light.

  1. Fast for at least eight hours before the exam for more accurate blood test results. The easiest way to do this is to schedule your appointment first thing in the morning, and skip breakfast.
  2. If you have to eat before your exam, keep it light: nothing heavy, and no caffeine.
  3. Avoid salt for 3-4 days before the exam; doing so might improve your blood pressure.
  4. Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before the exam, for the same reason.
  5. If you smoke, don’t puff anything for at least 30 minutes before your exam, since smoking constricts artery walls. Abstain longer, if you can.
  6. If you have an acute, temporary illness, like the flu or strep throat, reschedule your exam, as either the illness, or the drugs you take to treat it may affect the results of blood and urine tests.
  7. If you’re female, and have your period, be sure to inform the examiner (generally a nurse) as this will affect your urine test.

Remember that an insurance medical exam is never a substitue for an actual wellness exam, nor is it a measure of your total health, just a snapshot of your condition at a specific moment in time. Either way, there’s nothing to fear in such an exam.

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