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NEWS: House Passes National Flood Insurance Reform

June 30th, 2006 by Megan Mahan

I think this is good news for homeowners everywhere.

The Insurance News Network has the full story here; take a peek and learn about the new provisions in the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2006 (FIRM).

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Is Fire Awareness on the Back Burner?

June 30th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

As the East Coast gets deluged with rain, the West remains dry–dangerously so. Here in Colorado, our governor has requested disaster-area status for a few particularly parched agricultural counties. Highway signs remind motorists not toss their cigarette butts from their cars.

The prospect of catastrophic forest fire is scarily real–especially with the Fourth of July on the way and a long summer ahead.

So, I’ve got fire on the brain.

Fires have been part of the natural order in the West for thousands of years. What’s relatively new is the presence of human structures in this fire-prone landscape. Despite the hazards, migration to wild areas has continued unabated for our country’s 200-plus year history.

Proximity to natural beauty has its drawbacks of course, and this summer those drawbacks are in stark relief. Or are they?

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the threat of fire ought to be taken more seriously than it currently is. Instead, we have more and more people flocking to the outer edges of wild areas, often building large homes next to forests that are essentially stands of extra-large match sticks. Why?

…Read the rest of this entry »

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One Insurer “Sounds the Alarm” About Need for Long-Term Care Insurance

June 30th, 2006 by Penny Hagerman

Despite an aging population, increased longevity and booming medical costs, fewer and fewer Americans seem concerned about the affect long-term care could have on their pocketbooks–or their lives.

A recent study by the John Hancock Life Insurance Company reveals several surprising facts:

  • 43 percent of Americans have failed to plan completely for LTC needs
  • Many Americans would have difficulty paying for LTC costs out of pocket; 46 percent felt they would not be able to pay for even one year of LTC care
  • Most Americans have little knowledge or understanding of LTC issues

What exactly is long-term care (LTC) anyway?

When someone can no longer perform daily activities such as eating, bathing or dressing, long-term care is the help they need to take care of these basic functions. And LTC insurance, aimed at providing financially during these times, helps fund this help, given by skilled caregivers in a nursing home, assisted living facility, day care or even at the patient’s home.

According to the study’s findings, most of us just plain opt to ignore the possibility that we’ll have to face what might actually become the inevitable.

“Clearly, long-term care is difficult for Americans to think about. In fact, our survey suggests that they are in denial, taking a chance they won’t need care or just ignoring the fact that they might,” said Laura Moore, senior vice president of John Hancock Long Term Care Insurance. “[But] in the case of long-term care, ignorance is not bliss,” she added.

Indeed. Planning for these types of expenses can dramatically affect both the quality of patient care and the quality of life for patients’ families. But once people take LTC planning seriously, it’s often not as overwhelming and cost-prohibitive as originally thought, this insurer says.

According to yesterday’s Insurance NewsNet article on the subject, Americans are just plain confused about long-term care, and are not facing the realities of what lies ahead regarding this issue. John Hancock hoped this latest information provided by its survey would “serve as a wake-up call” and help change all that.

[Get more info here.]

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New York Close to Mental Health Parity Law

June 29th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

New York may become the 36th state to implement a mental health parity law–a law that would require insurers to cover mental health to the same degree they cover physical ailments.

While both chambers of the legislature have been busy crafting Timothy’s Law, which is the informal name of the bill, New York Governor George Pataki has been cagey about whether it will get his signature.

Timothy O’Clair, the bill’s namesake, committed suicide at age 12. His parents had given up custody in order to pay for his mental health treatment after his medical coverage ran dry.

According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the state plans to ease the potential premium burden for small business by picking up part of the part of the tab for companies with fewer than 50 employees.

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Another Chance for Grants in Mississippi

June 29th, 2006 by Megan Mahan

The Hurricane Katrina Grant Program in Mississippi has announced that it will be accepting another round of applicants.

The Insurance Journal is reporting that the state has increased the insurance values used in calculating homeowner grant amounts by 35 percent, in an effort to compensate for higher post-Katrina construction costs.

The spokesperson for the Mississippi Development Authority said the action came after state officials realized that the majority of homeowners were “uninsured in comparison to inflated construction costs.” Hmm. That seems like a rather basic observation, but continuing on…

The grant program is designed to provide financial assistance to homeowners who suffered damages and lived beyond designated flood plains, or did not have flood insurance coverage. It is among multiple housing initiatives in the state and along the Gulf coast after last year’s raucous hurricane season.

IJ reports that more than 16,500 residents have applied for the Katrina Homeowner Grant Program; the grant is capped at $150,000 and does not affect those receiving state or federal benefits like pension or disability.

The program acknowledges that they may not be able to help everyone, but Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, has stressed the importance of registering for the grant, saying, “If you don’t register, we can’t help you.”

For more information and application guidelines, visit the grant page here.

[Related reading]:
Up and coming Mississippi state housing initiatives [Mississippi Home Help]
Home Insurance Rates Skyrocket in Mississippi [The InsureMe Insurance Blog]

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Wanted: [Sales] Gripes, Suggestions and Opinions

June 28th, 2006 by Megan Mahan

gearhead.JPGI just had an idea. It could turn out to be no good, and if it is, I’ll take full responsibility for it in a few days if it fails miserably.

I read a post at the Consumerist today in which the author asks the readers how they liked their “sales greeting”. Do they like being approached by salespeople in a store and asked what exactly they’re looking for? Do they like to be ignored? Do they like to be welcomed into the store and then left alone?

The thread of comments following this post got me thinking about my preferences and how I liked–and disliked–to be solicited on broader sales level. (For example, I don’t like when people call me but am okay with most email communications.) It also got me thinking about how greatly agents on the InsureMe network could benefit from consumer feedback. Then I had an obvious epiphany: why not ask readers of the Insurance blog about their sales and marketing preferences and share them with our agents!

So here’s the deal. I want to hear from you. All of you. Tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t like. Do you hate receiving phone calls from salespeople? Do you prefer being contacted with quotes and other offers via email? Do you pay attention to offers and flyers that you receive in the mail? Do you pay attention to newspaper advertisements? Radio ads? Do you like to meet with an agent or just get your business done and over with online?

Leave all of your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section [anonymously if you wish], and I’ll share them with our readers at the InsureMe Agent blog. Because voicing your opinion is one thing–sharing those thoughts with someone who can actually do something about is another.

Oh…and remember, the more ideas you leave, the less of an idiot I’ll look like. :)

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Climate Change: the Fattest ‘Cat’?

June 28th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

In a recent post I asked the question “What does the insurance industry think about climate change?”

As it happens, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has established a task force to explore the subject. In an interview with Insurance Networking News, Tim Wagner, who co-leads the task force, spoke about the formation of the group and what he hopes it will achieve:

For me, personally, I want insurers to acknowledge and become involved in managing this change. It’s ironic that the European reinsurers have been on this issue, and the U.S. insurance industry has not been as engaged. … Basically, we need to start thinking about the risk management associated with the change of climate and demographics.

Wagner sees the climate change-demographic parallel–where you have high concentrations of people living in the most climatically vulnerable places, like the southeast–as an essential subject for insurers to explore. “The two together create almost infinite risk compared with finite premium,” he said.

Wager also offered an explanation for the tardy industry response to the climate change challenge: “In insurance we tend to look at the past instead of the future, and when you have a dynamic change taking place, looking at the past doesn’t work so well.” Still, he says, history does offer some sobering lessons:

You know, 20th century historian Arnold Toynbee analyzed 21 failed civilizations and found two reasons for their failures. The first reason was the concentration of wealth, and the second reason was the inability to adapt to change. I think we need to recognize that things are changing and start planning for that event.

Wise counsel.

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Secondhand Smoke: “Alarming” Public Health Hazard

June 28th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

Yellow teeth and bad breath. Higher homeowner’s and health insurance rates. Carbon monoxide, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide (cyanide!). Early death.

If these reasons aren’t enough to compel you to quit smoking, how about this one, courtesy of the U.S. Surgeon General:

You’re killing us.

The Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona announced Tuesday that secondhand smoke kills tens of thousands of nonsmokers each year.

According to the New York Times’ coverage of the announcement, second hand smoke caused 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease last year. Three thousand died prematurely from cancer. And plumes of secondhand smoke triggered 430 cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

See the full report here.

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Cutting Down On Post-Flood Damage

June 27th, 2006 by Megan Mahan

I found some good tips from the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) today, detailing how proper cleanup can help prevent futher damage after a flood. Minimizing flood damage from the start can cut down on toxic mold and extensive structural damage–which can jack up the size of your claim and make you an unattractive candidate to insurers come renewal time. flood.gif

Whether in your home or business, after the threat of physical storm danger has passed, the IBHS recommends:

  • Turning off electrical power, and keeping it off until it’s safe to turn it on
  • Ensuring that natural gas sources are safely secured
  • Securing the exterior structure from further weather damage–boarding up broken windows, making temporary roof repairs and covering gaps and holes with plastic sheeting, etc.

Once it’s safe to begin the actual clean up, the IBHS recommends:

  • Disconnecting all electrical equipment and moving it to a dry place
  • Removing as much standing water as possible
  • Removing water-damaged materials
  • Ventilating the flooded area with fans and dehumidifiers
  • Calling in the professionals for help if need be

Having been through a couple of floods in my day, I can tell you that taking immediate action can save you all kinds of time and money, both during the clean up and restoration process, and in future home insurance premiums. Take a look at the full IBHS report here and be sure to check out our related post, Salvaging Storm-Damaged Belongings for more tips on preserving your belongings.

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Roadside Assistance: What You Don’t Know Could Hurt (Cost?) You

June 27th, 2006 by Penny Hagerman

Roadside assistance coverage is a commonly added supplement on many auto insurance policies. But did you know that, if you use this valuable resource too much, your premiums could actually go up?

Don’t feel bad; this was news to me, too. A recent report from CNN Money revealed this relatively unknown fact, so I thought I’d research it further.

Buying roadside assistance through your insurer may seem like a wise (and innocent enough) thing to do. After all, the cost is minimal (as little as $3-$10 for a six-month period) and the added protection can be invaluable when you run out of gas, lock yourself out of your car, get a flat tire or just need a jumpstart on a cold winter day.

In contrast, those same services purchased through independent motor clubs such as AAA or Allstate Motor Club cost significantly more–between $45 and $100 per year or more.

But here’s the real difference: using your insurer’s towing package may cause your rates to rise.

…Read the rest of this entry »

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Are Your Doctor’s Priorities in Sync With Your Own?

June 27th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

When it comes to steering human behavior on a macro level to produce a socially desirable outcome, there are a couple of options:

1. Appeal to people on an altruistic level
2. Offer them economic incentives

Ask any economist, and he or she will say the latter option is a better bet.

When we seek medical treatment, we don’t usually think about the incentives motivating our doctors. We assume, perhaps naively, that our health is of paramount concern–that our doctors genuinely want us to be healthy. Because why else are they practicing medicine?

What if our health isn’t always at the top of their list of priorities? What if the incentive structure in medicine rewards doctors who don’t take good care of us?

Recently, Mary Joe Feldstein, a writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, suggested just that:

Typically, physicians get paid only when their patients receive care, and more complex care often brings bigger paychecks. At the same time, doctors complain that paltry payments for office visits force them to rush through checkups instead of educating patients about their illnesses, medications and healthy living - all of which might lower future medical bills.

It’s a system that gives doctors little financial incentive to keep patients well. And, experts say, it might be contributing to dangerous, unnecessary care as well as high medical bills.

Scary, isn’t it?

…Read the rest of this entry »

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Katrina’s Latest Victim: New York

June 27th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

Gulf Coast residents aren’t the only ones getting snubbed by skittish insurers. The New York Daily News reported today that some New Yorkers (yes, New Yorkers) have lost coverage because of last year’s hurricane season.

Although New York’s weather may not be as volatile as New Orleans’, Allstate and Nationwide Mutual have decided that risky weather and high property values have made insuring some northeastern coastal areas an unwelcome financial liability.

“Homes in Long Island have gone up in the last five years between 60 and 70%. Believe me, our rates have not gone up by 60 or 70%,” Allstate chief Edward Liddy told the New York Daily News. “You look at our exposure and you say ‘We want to have enough capital to protect and care for all our 17 million households across the country.’ To do that, you may have to reduce your exposure in a small way in other areas.”

Even though New York hasn’t been hit with a catastrophic hurricane since the Great Depression, the Daily News reports that Allstate plans to drop coverage of 30,000 homes in coastal New York.

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Additional Benefits for Churchgoers?

June 26th, 2006 by Megan Mahan

Will additional church insurance benefits increase congregations across the country?

That’s my question, after reading the Insurance Journal’s article about insurers like GuideOne, who provide parishioners in 19 states with added insurance benefits.

FaithGuard, the company’s year-old home and auto insurance product, is gaining popularity, with new policies being purchased at a rate of more than 160 per day. So what kind of added benefits are policyholders earning with FaithGuard?

According to IJ, the insurance company, which insures over 43,000 churches nationwide, waives the deductible if your car is involved in an accident while driving to or from a scheduled worship or other religious activity. In addition, medical payments are doubled if you’re involved in an accident while driving non-family members directly to or from a scheduled religious activity.

The benefits go on, including a five percent discount to non-smokers (which is pretty standard of most insurance companies) and mortgage payments are made up to $7,500 if you become disabled because of an accident in your home.

Perhaps it’s the cynic in me for even asking this, but are there any provisions in place to keep people from taking advantage of these added church insurance benefits? With all the take, take, take going on anymore, I have to wonder if folks would return to church to see what they can get out of it–and not from a spiritual standpoint.

Despite my skepticism of others, however, I think products like FaithGuard can be a very viable insurance option for some Americans. Just make sure to compare the premium prices and benefits of products like FaithGuard to other policies in your area.

And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the handy quote box on the top right-hand side of the page. So, you know…if you feel like comparing some quotes, feel free to fill it out. If not, that’s cool too. We’re just happy you’re visiting our blog. Really. :) [End unabashed InsureMe plug.]

[related post]: Will Life Insurers Give Discounts to Churchgoers?

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Shady Scheme Puts Seniors at Risk

June 26th, 2006 by Jeb Foster

The Street’s Terry Savage has written a creepy column about speculator-initiated life insurance, a scheme in which insurance “investors” convince seniors to take out additional life insurance policies.

In the plot, which is shady but legal, granny doesn’t pay for the first two years of policy premiums, and for her trouble she gets a yearly percentage of the overall policy value–often several thousand dollars.

After two years, the premiums–which are incredibly expensive–become the senior’s responsibility, prompting grandma or grandpa to sell the policy to the speculator, who becomes the beneficiary.

The speculator then waits for the insured to croak and collects on the million-dollar policy, recouping the expenses incurred from paying for the premiums (and grandpa’s spending money.)

“[The scheme] could put you in the position of being a target,” says Savage. “At the very least, it gives someone a tremendous incentive to see you dead sooner rather than later!”

She advises seniors tempted by the plan to consider how creepy it would be to have someone out there, who may be a complete stranger, betting against your life.

Savage: “It sounds like a script from “The Sopranos.’”

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Weird Insurance Claims: Licking Cows And More

June 23rd, 2006 by Megan Mahan

cow.gifFellow insurance blogger, Penny, sent me this article by way of the Insurance News Network the other day, and I found it fitting for today’s peculiar posting.

According to the INN article, the National Underwriter (an insurance publication) recently asked their readers to share their strangest claims stories. Oddly, most of them included animals.

Here’s my favorite:

Mr. Ward sent in his tale of an insured driving back from an unsuccessful fishing trip on the coast. As he was driving, the insured decided to take one last try at catching something, and stopped to fish in a friend’s farm pond in the middle of a cow pasture.

‘A herd of cows gathered around the car while he was fishing, but he thought nothing of it until he got ready to leave. As he approached the car he saw a cow chewing on something that was long and black. Each time the cow chewed, the black object bobbed up and down,’ Mr. Ward wrote.

‘Curious, he walked over a little closer and realized that the cow was chewing on his windshield wiper! He ran screaming to his car, waving his arms and shooing the cows, only to discover that they had licked his auto from one end to the other, and had eaten the rubber seals from around the windows,’ he added.

The reason for such strange behavior is fairly simple, he wrote. ‘Cows like salt,’ Mr. Ward explained. ‘His car had been parked next to the ocean for two days. They saw it as a huge salt lick.’

The insured called to explain what had happened. ‘He said his car was covered with gooey slobber, the paint was ruined, and all the windows were jangling as he rode along because there was no rubber to hold them in place,’ Mr. Ward wrote. ‘He wanted to know if comprehensive coverage was really comprehensive.’

See, even insurance has its lighter moments. :) Enjoy the article and have a great weekend!

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Story Roundup

June 23rd, 2006 by Jeb Foster

There is a brief but uplifting report in the L.A. Times on how the number of kids without health insurance has dropped by a third in the past eight years. The federal government credits state efforts and expenditures for the increase in coverage. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 6.5 million children were without health coverage in last year.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) introduced a new Web site that aims to help consumers cope with the “maze of options and cost considerations” when buying a health insurance policy. The site is called InsureU, and in addition to offering resources on health insurance, it provides helpful tips on buying auto, home and life insurance policies. The site’s unique organization allows users to find information relevant to their own “life stage,” i.e., age or marital status. Check it out.

According to an NPR report, nutritionists are recommending a “big increase” in vitamin D exposure. Vitamin D is credited with building healthy bones and strong muscles. Previously, scientists thought random daily exposure to the sun was enough, but long hours in the office, increased sunscreen use and dim winter rays are leaving many without adequate levels of D. Ten minutes in the midday sun should be enough–provided you’re not slathered in 45.

Lastly, it turns out that bird flu might not be the only “avian malady” to worry about. Check out these other bird-related afflictions.

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Surprise! Collegebound Kids Can $ave you Money on Car Insurance

June 22nd, 2006 by Megan Mahan

If your son or daughter is off at college, you could be missing out on some middle_aged_coupleserious savings–on car insurance.

According to this article by U.S. News and World Report, almost half of all parents of college students forget to call their agent and reduce their car insurance when a student goes off to college–and fork as much as $3,000 for no reason. In fact the VP of education and research at the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, says parents can save $100 to $200 a month just by scaling back their kid’s coverage.

The article also provides some additional ways to maximize savings:

…Read the rest of this entry »

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More Dismal News From the Gulf Coast

June 22nd, 2006 by Jeb Foster

Insurance Journal’s Andy Simpson reports that some gulf coast residents are being scammed into buying bogus auto and homeowner’s insurance. Unsuspecting consumers are lured by low premiums and promises of comprehensive coverage.

The Journal passes on this bit of timeless insurance wisdom:

If a policy looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Check out the video broadcast for the details–it’s informative (if a depressing commentary on human nature), and Simpson’s wooden performance (Edward R. Murrow he isn’t) is entertaining.

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A Car for the Handicapped: Innovation on Wheels

June 21st, 2006 by Penny Hagerman

Until recently, our wheelchair-bound friends haven’t had many options when it comes to driving. Short of installing a lift in a full-sized van and lugging themselves from their home on wheels to the driver’s seat, these brave souls have, for the most part, remained in the passenger seat.

But that may be about to change.

If you know someone facing this challenging situation, you might want to make note of this word: “Kenguru.” Why? Because, in the future, it could very well change their lives.

The Kenguru, an electric-powered automobile designed specifically for wheelchair users, is making driving much simpler and more pleasureable for the handicapped. This stylish car has no front seat–just a space built to house the driver’s wheelchair. The driver simply rolls in through the extra large car doors at the rear of the vehicle (much like a hatchback) and into position. The wheelchair locks into place, within easy reach of the car’s controls, which are centered on a joystick. The car requires only minimal maintenance, and was designed to operate reliably, making owning one of these bits of innovation a real pleasure for those who need them.
kengaru.jpg

What’s the catch? (There always is one, isn’t there?) According to the report on Newlaunches.com, this unconventional car is available only in Hungary for now. And even if you did go to Europe to check them out, you wouldn’t see one passing you by on the freeway. Like most electric mini-cars, they have a limited range of about 35 miles and travel only on surface streets–at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

Woo-hoo! Not exactly lightening speed, huh?

There is more good news though. This little gem costs only $12,500; and in Hungary, it’s free for some individuals through their health insurance plans. Whether or not it’ll land in the good ole’ US of A and become an allowable insurance expense remains to be seen.

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What Does the Insurance Industry Think About Climate Change?

June 21st, 2006 by Jeb Foster

Although only a few argue there was a direct, provable link between last season’s particularly nasty hurricane season and man-made climate change, everyone will agree there was a (very) strong correlation between the amount of devastation and the amount insurers forked over in claims.

After last year’s storms, some scientists noted that, although there perhaps wasn’t a direct connection, future atmospheric warming will bring warmer ocean temps and warmer oceans will bring, in turn, deadlier and, for insurance purposes, more expensive storms.

In December, Ceres, a national organization that “works to advance environmental stewardship on the part of business,” released a white paper entitled “Availability and Affordability of Insurance Under Climate Change: A Growing Challenge for the U.S.” Ceres wrote the paper before Katrina and Rita made landfall.

The mere mention of climate change raises the hackles of some–namely those who believe the term should be put quotes. Climate change is one of the hottest political issues of the day, with one side calling it the most important issue facing mankind, another calling it a fetish of lefty doomsayers.

As it happens, insurers are showing some concern–though not enough in Ceres’ opinion–over climate change. Not lost on the irony, the Ceres paper points out that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners had planned to discuss climate change at their meeting last fall in New Orleans. Of course, the discussion–and the entire meeting–was shelved because the host city was underwater.

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