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How Smart Is Smart?

July 31st, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

smart_carUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably seen a few Smart cars puttering around your town’s roads and highways.

In fact, it seems more and more of these tiny cars drive side by side with the rest of us every day.

So what’s the big draw that has people trading in their cars of all sizes for these miniature, itsy-bitsy versions?

And how safe are they, anyway?

Only about eight feet long and a mere 1,800 pounds, the Smart car is known and loved for it’s affordability, fuel economy, maneuverability, safety features and—its real forte—the fun factor.

Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it isn’t safe, says Smart car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. Well known for putting safety first, the automaker swears by the vehicle, which has earned one of the top spots in safety tests among small automobiles.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) president Adrian Lund agrees, saying, “Among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package.”

Ask anyone who owns one, and they’re likely to tell you Smarts are a bit under-powered, but worth their weight in gold otherwise.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective ride that’s as smart as its name, do yourself a favor and check out the Smart car. This little car’s got a lot going for it!

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Cash for Clunkers, at a Dealership Near You!

July 27th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

old_carIn these days of high gas prices and needle-pegging pollution levels, many people are downsizing from larger to smaller cars to help save money on fuel and reduce emissions.

Now, the government’s new  ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program might help. If you’ve been listening to the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the rewards this program offers drivers willing to trade in their old gas-guzzlers, including rebates of between $3,500 and $4,500 on newer, more fuel-efficient cars.

To qualify, customers trade in older models that get 18 miles per gallon or less, are fewer than 25 years old, are currently registered and in running condition, and cost less than $45,000. In exchange, they may purchase any foreign or domestic car using those money-saving incentives—as long as the vehicle chosen gets at least 22 miles to the gallon.

Though the program didn’t officially start until this week, many dealerships nationwide began promoting it last week, reports ABC news. For those ready to finally let go of their older vehicles in favor of something greener and new, this program offers a step in the right direction.

But before you head to the dealer’s lot to take a look at your new-car options, remember: think safety first! It’s important to make the right decision regarding the vehicle you choose, because once you drive off the lot in that shiny new car, your life—and your insurance rates—might just depend on it.

Each year, the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs crash tests and determines accident survivability based on individual car ratings. If you’re looking to trade in your large truck or older sedan for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, we recommend you find out which small cars rank safest and best.

It’ll help you go prepared and knowledgeable—and you’ll save on your auto insurance, too.

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Drowsy Drivers, Wake Up!

July 17th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

man_asleep_at_wheelWe’ve all slid behind the wheel of a car after a long day, totally wrung out and with no business driving.

Haven given our all to job and family, it’s easy to space out or even nod off with what they used to call ‘highway hypnosis.’ (Basically, that means becoming hypnotized by the never-changing road ahead and falling into a dreamlike, hypnotized state with your eyes open.)

What do most of us do when we’re driving drowsy and trying to stay awake? Blow the AC on our face, turn up the volume on the radio and anything else we can think of to stimulate our senses and keep our eyes open.

But that’s not enough. A recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that fatigued driving causes up to 100,000 passenger vehicle crashes, kills at least 1,500, and injures 71,000 people every year.

That means too many of us are getting behind the wheel in an unrested state and conning ourselves into thinking we can drive safely anyway. That puts lives at risk, increases the chance of having an accident when we nod off—and raises insurance rates as a result.

So how can you know when you’re too tired to drive?

According to a recent article on Edmunds.com,  it’s time to take a break when you:

  • Feel sleepy
  • Yawn repeatedly
  • Drive for more than two hours or travel more than 100-120 miles
  • Can’t remember driving for a period of time
  • Have wandering or disconnected thoughts
  • Begin lane-weaving, tailgating or missing traffic signs
  • Nearly have an accident

What does drowsy driving look like? Sometimes exhausted drivers blink slowly and aren’t aware their eyes are closed for so long. Others drift off and wake up when their head begins to bob up and down.

Whatever drowsy driving looks like for you, it’s dangerous to everyone around you. So don’t hit the road without sufficient sleep and think you can fake it.  Read our article on drowsy driving for more information—and prepare ahead for a safe road trip!

More Resources:

A Wake-Up Call for Drowsy Drivers

Asleep at the Wheel

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Does Your Insurer Tweet?

July 8th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

birdIf you’re looking for a great way to sound off to your insurance company, ask insurance questions or get help filing a claim, try searching for your insurer on Twitter.

Realizing the potential social media holds for business, many insurers have begun communicating with customers on Twitter, the popular site that allows users to “tweet” about anything: random facts, informative articles, vital data or any other information users and friends might find relevant.

A much faster and more efficient way to communicate online these days, Twitter is gaining in popularity among Internet users, along with other social networking sites like Facebook. And insurance companies are jumping at the chance to use the venue to network with customers.

According to Nielsen Online, a leading company that measures Web site traffic, consumers are now spending 83 percent more time participating in online social networks than they did a year ago.

That presents business opportunities most insurers can’t pass up.

Using Twitter, your insurance company can connect with you in real time, answer your questions, and communicate the latest, most up-to-date insurance news. This helps you stay informed and even anonymous, if you wish, while getting the help you need.

If you haven’t joined the popular crowd on Twitter, we recommend you sign up today and connect with your insurer online. It could make getting the help you need with your insurance policies much easier!

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Breast Implants: Are They Worth It?

July 6th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

breast_implantsThe decision to get breast implants is a very personal one.

Other than women who need augmentation work due to cancer, most who opt for implants do so for purely cosmetic reasons: to improve their physical prowess, feel better about themselves, or be more appealing to a partner (or the opposite sex in general).

But undergoing any kind of surgery can be risky. So when it comes to doing so unnecessarily, as with breast implantation for cosmetic reasons, your health insurance company won’t cover the expense involved.

Instead, you’ll have to do so out of pocket yourself—to the tune of $4,000 to $7,000 on average, according to WebMD.

A large percentage of women who undergo implantation need further surgery later to repair leaks, adjust positioning or replace implants that get damaged. Some need MRIs to check for ruptures.

Again, these are expenses each woman must cover herself, due to the health risk posed by such procedures.

For those considering breast implantation, there are other insurance-related issues to consider, too. For instance, even if you pay for the surgery and any later complications yourself, your insurance company may decide to drop you, come renewal time, because the implants may lead to further health conditions it may be required to cover.

If you switch insurance companies, your new insurer may consider your implants a preexisting condition, and limit your coverage or raise your premium as a result.

So what do you think? Are breast implants worth it?

In our book, that’s a decision every woman should make for herself. But before proceeding, it’s wise to talk to your doctor, get all the facts, and prepare financially for the expense you’ll incur, both now and in the future. That way, you make the decision that’s right for you.

For more information on breast implants and insurance, see our article titled “Fake Breasts, Real Insurance.” It will help you get prepared, know what to expect and make the best decision possible.

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It’s Like Playing the Lottery

June 30th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

During tough economic times, paying your insurance bill may seem difficult.

But not paying it could be devastating.lottery_card

Try cancelling that car insurance policy and you may soon find yourself facing huge fines, jail—or even losing your license.

Forego a homeowner’s policy and you’ll soon be hearing from your lender, who’s as invested in your home as you are and requires you to insure it to protect you both from disaster.

And what about that life insurance policy you’ve had hidden away the past few years? What would happen to your family if you decided to cash it in now and use the money to pay other bills—or take a vacation instead?

Because we never know if we’ll really need it or not, buying insurance is a bit like playing the lottery: As one man said, “It’s a gamble, but you have to have it.”

Are things tough at your house? If so, we understand. But during these difficult times, resist the urge to skimp on insurance. Instead, find other ways to save money so you have the provision you need when you need it.

It may seem like you’re playing the lottery; but if you ever need to file an insurance claim, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot!

[Footnote:]

To lower your insurance rates, let us help at InsureMe.com.

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Nature’s Most Violent Storms

June 25th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

One of the most frequently occurring weather events, tornadoes have struck southern, mid-western and plains states with fury this spring and summer.

Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library

Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library

As we’ve nervously watched weather reports, listened for tornado watches and warnings, and headed to our basements or cellars when necessary, we’ve begun to realize just how vicious these storms can be.

Referred to by experts as nature’s most violent and devastating storms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate neighborhoods in seconds, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Along with that kind of risk for damage and injury comes higher home insurance rates in tornado-prone areas.

Consider these facts, courtesy of FEMA:

  • Tornadoes may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They’re most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months.
  • Though they may occur at any time of day, tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 and 9 p.m.
  • They usually move forward at an average speed of 30 mph, but they may also remain stationary or move up to 70 mph.
  • A southwest to northeast movement is most common, but they have been known to move in any direction.
  • Peak tornado season is March through May in southern states and late spring through early summer in the north.

As an Oklahoma native growing up in a region of the country known as ‘tornado alley,’ I will never take the power of tornadoes for granted.

In fact, having lived through more tornado sightings than I can count on both hands, I can personally testify to the fear and panic that sets in when you hear that ‘train’ pass overhead—or see it tear a path through the middle of a neighborhood, taking inanimate objects, homes, pets and people right along with it.

Those are nightmares best left to your dreams…unless, of course, you’re a weather watcher!

Because of tornadoes’ destructive nature and the possibility of injury and harm they carry, we recommend you keep your eyes on the skies this summer. Meanwhile, check out Jeb’s article, “5 Fascinating Facts about Tornadoes.” Should you ever face a life-threatening tornado in the future, you might just learn something from the past that will help you survive.

And please; if tornadoes threaten your home or safety, don’t try to ride out the storm. Take those dark skies and high winds seriously, and take cover!

More Tornado Resources:

Frequently Asked Questions about Tornadoes

Tornado Trivia Quiz

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A Little ‘Wining’ Never Hurt Anyone

June 19th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Lovely summer dayRemember when you were young and your parents told you to stop whining? Well, next time you’re tired and grumpy, try a different kind of ‘wine.’

Or this weekend, while you’re grabbing a beer with your buds or enjoying a martini at home, consider drinking wine instead.

New research shows that men who consume about half a glass of wine a day can expect to live almost five years longer than those who don’t—and 2.5 years longer than their friends who drink only beer or other liquor.

That’s enough to make a wino out of anyone! But remember: moderation is key.

While scientists have known for some time that phytochemicals—naturally occurring plant compounds found in wine—reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and slow the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, a recent Dutch study revealed the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: sipping wine can help you live longer.

The study followed more than 1,100 middle-aged men over a 40-year period, examining diet, habits, overall health and the impact of drinking beer, liquor and wine.

Researchers investigated how much alcohol the men drank, the form in which it was consumed and for what period of time, and whether the men smoked or had any serious illnesses.

As it turns out, the wine drinkers in the group died at an average age of 77, as opposed to the normal average of 72.

Even when researchers factored in socioeconomic status, dietary factors and other lifestyle habits, the link between wine and longer life remained, a recent report in Reuters revealed.

Though researchers aren’t sure yet if these benefits extend to women, due to a difference in the way male and female bodies metabolize alcohol, here’s one female willing to take a chance! What have I got to lose?

For more information on ‘wining’ and dining for longer life, check out our article, “‘Wine’ a Little, Live Longer.” And while you’re out enjoying yourself this weekend, order a teaser of red wine at dinner. You’ll feel better and live longer.

Hat Tip to Reuters News & WebMD:

A Little Wine May Make for a Longer Life
Drinking a Little Wine Linked to Men’s Longer Life
Half a Glass of Wine for Longer Life?

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Snacking Smart

June 16th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

appleMany of us grew up in households where snacking was taboo.

We were told that eating between meals would ruin our appetites; and usually the only time our parents let us snack was when we came home from school and dinner was still hours away.

Experts know differently now—and it’s obvious that snacking has gotten a bad rap it doesn’t deserve.

As long as we monitor portion sizes and calorie counts, snacking can be part of a healthy, balanced diet for kids and adults alike, say the American Association for Retired People (AARP) and the American Dietetic Association (ADA), both recognized authorities on the subject of nutrition.

In fact, snacking carries a number of health benefits our parents and adults of earlier generations never recognized.

For instance, pairing healthy snacks—like protein-rich nuts, low-fat cheeses, low-fat yogurt and peanut butter—with fresh fruits and vegetables helps maintain energy levels throughout the day, curb hunger and prevent overeating at meals.

It also helps maintain constant insulin and blood cholesterol levels, possibly reducing the likelihood of diabetes and obesity in the process—and promoting healthier lives and lower health insurance rates for our children and future generations.

No matter what your age, snacking can be good for you, if done correctly and planned ahead of time. So find out how to snack healthily, avoid the vending machine when you hit that mid-afternoon slump—and feel better all day long.

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Traffic Triples Risk of Heart Attack

June 9th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

For the sake of your health, keep your cool in traffic!

For the sake of your health, keep your cool in traffic!

Enduring traffic can be more than a little stressful.

From rude drivers, to constant stop and go, to accidents that inevitably tie up major thoroughfares, it’s all some of us can do to keep our tempers from flaring and taking our frustrations out on everyone around us—like that guy who just cut us off or the driver who squeezed in at the front of the line where the road narrowed.

But no matter how badly you’re tempted, don’t do it. In fact, don’t do anything but try to relax while sitting in heavy traffic. Not only could you risk your health if you do otherwise; you could also risk drastically raising your health and auto insurance rates.

How? According to a new German study, traffic can be heartbreaking. The pollution and exhaust we breathe while backed up on the freeway seems to exact a heavy toll on our health.

Combine that with increased stress levels, concentrated emissions and amplified noise, and research now shows our risk of heart attack soars to more than three times the norm for up to an hour after sitting in heavy traffic.

How do we know? Researchers at the Institute of Epidemiology in Munich, Germany, interviewed 1,454 people who waded through traffic and then suffered a heart attack within 60 minutes.

The study tracked what participants did the day of the heart attack, where they went, their means of transportation and the amount of time they spent in traffic.

Analysis and follow-up showed their risk of heart attack multiplied 3.2 times normal rates.

Of course, those in poor health, the elderly and children topped the list of those at greatest risk. But even more puzzling: traffic proved five times more dangerous to women than men. It will take some work to find out why.

Drivers weren’t the only ones affected, either. Bus and bicycle riders suffered just as much, leading researchers to suspect a strong pollution/heart attack connection.

Annette Peters, PhD, who led the study, says, “One potential factor could be the exhaust and air pollution coming from other cars. But we can’t exclude the synergy between stress and air pollution that could tip the balance.”

Efforts are now underway to try and determine the effect various elements have on humans sitting in traffic. Meanwhile, until results are more conclusive, you might want to try taking “the road less traveled,” to borrow a phrase—and avoid heavy traffic whenever possible.

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Sleep and Health: the Undeniable Connection

June 5th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Does a lack of sleep leave you like this every day?

Does a lack of sleep leave you like this every day?

Do you struggle to get enough sleep, like about half the adult population in our country?

If so, you probably feel sluggish during that “low point” in your day, when you just can’t seem to hold your eyes open without a double mocha latte or a shot of cappuccino.

Well, you may be able to glide through your week on five or six hours of sleep a night for a while; but eventually, a lack of sleep will catch up with you—in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, struggling to stay awake during the day may be the least of your worries, scientists say. A recent article in the New York Times revealed the true effects of sleep deprivation: health problems such as high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, depression, diabetes and heart disease.

And issues like that can also affect your insurance rates, as many who buy private health insurance later find out.

The amount of sleep each person needs varies, with some breezing through their days on just a few hours’ slumber and others barely functioning without nine or 10 hours. But new research shows that most people need between seven and nine hours to stay both alert and healthy.

“Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body,” says Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago.

It’s this disruption in the body’s basic processes that can cause things to go awry, leading to all kinds of health problems we may never encounter otherwise.

But that’s not all. Recent studies also indicate that the amount of time a person spends sleeping affects his or her chances of living a long life.

“There’s recent evidence showing—in both men and women in several countries—that chronic sleep deprivation increases risk of early death,” Carl Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, told WebMD recently.

Several large sleep studies cite other problems connected with sleep deprivation too: problems like poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems and issues with mood and anger.

If you struggle with insomnia, or don’t get to bed early enough to get a full eight hours, you could be affected more than you know. Find out how deadly a lack of sleep can be—and do what you can to stay healthy, get enough sleep and live long.

More Resources on the Sleep/Health Connection:

At Every Age, Feeling the Effects of Too Little Sleep

Scientists Finding out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body

Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think

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Feasting on Flesh and Blood

June 3rd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

bedbugHave you ever awoken one morning to discover red, itchy bumps on your skin—or a rash you couldn’t explain?

You know they weren’t there the night before; yet red welts now cover your skin, some may even blister, and you have no idea how they got there.

Well, guess what? You may be a victim of bed bugs, those nasty little creatures that sometimes infest our homes, apartments, hotel rooms, hospitals and college dormitories; hiding in mattresses, bedding, under baseboards or loose wallpaper and coming out at night to feast on our flesh and blood.

Nasty, huh?

It sounds worse than it really is. Though transmission of more than 40 human diseases has been attributed to bed bugs, there is little evidence that they transport any communicable disease, says Jerome Goddard, Ph.D., of Mississippi State University, and Richard deShazo, M.D., of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, both of whom recently examined the medical effects of bed bugs on health.

Though in extreme cases, bed bug bites may cause severe skin reactions in some, the body’s usual response is those small red bumps you may have already discovered, which tend to heal on their own without incident.

However, once infestation occurs, eradicating those little nuisances from your home may be harder than you think.

If you suspect you may have bed bugs, don’t let embarrassment get the best of you—and don’t just put up with the little critters. Read our article titled, “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite,” take steps to protect yourself and your family, and get rid of those nasty things now.

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Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

May 28th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

student_driver_with_parentRemember the sense of freedom you experienced when you were a teenager and just learning to drive? Remember how the wheel felt in your hands…and the exhilarating feeling of power when your foot hit the gas?

Then there was that pole you backed into while doing your best to parallel park—and the emotional explanation that followed when your parents saw the car’s crumpled fender.

And the rear-ender you had when you got preoccupied trying to change the channel on the car radio—and the insurance rates that soared as a result.

Raising a responsible, mature driver isn’t easy. Now, as an adult with teens of your own, you wish you could skip the white knuckles and fast-forward to the day when your teenager drives like a normal, sane human being.

But before they set out on their own in the family car, teens need lots of practice to learn how to drive safely. In many states, graduated driver licensing, in which teens gain experience driving under specified conditions and restrictions for a particular period of time, help ensure they learn as they go, reducing the likelihood of accident.

But that’s not enough.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the risk of being involved in a car crash per mile driven is four times that for 16- to 19-year-olds than for veteran drivers.

Why? Because along with lack of experience comes immaturity and unwise decision making—and both can kill when teens are learning to drive.

To help overcome these statistics, experts say parental coaching is the key to training teen drivers adequately—which helps keep them, and everyone around them, safer.

That means spending an abundance of time one-on-one, talking, observing and setting a good example of mature driving behavior, such as buckling up, yielding the right-of-way when appropriate, and driving within the speed limit.

No matter how crazy they act sometimes, our teens look to us for advice and coaching. So learn how to coach your teenager effectively, encourage him to drive safely, and keep insurance rates down in the process.

Some day, he’ll fill your shoes by teaching his own teen to drive—and pass along the wisdom you shared with your grandchild!

More Resources for Parents:

Keeping Young Drivers Safe

Novice Driver Road Map

Raising Safe Drivers

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The ‘Real Sugar’ Scam

May 22nd, 2009 by Jeb Foster

pepsi-and-mountain-dew-throwback-still-not-healthyLook, I’m not a fan of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s terrible for your health, and the industrial cultivation of government-subsidized corn pollutes our environment and corrupts our political system.

But real sugar is not a panacea. More to the point, it does not make soda any healthier. Period. I don’t care if it’s free-trade, organic, straight-from-the-cane sugar that has been blessed by the Dalai Lama. Soda, whether it’s flavored by sugar or HFCS (both of which contain similarly high levels of fructose, believe it or not), will continue to grow waistlines, rot teeth and hasten death by heart disease and diabetes, in the process clogging emergency rooms, and raising health care costs and insurance premiums. (Heart disease and diabetes are the country’s number one and seven killers, and they are also some of the most expensive medical conditions to treat.)

By all means, enjoy your real-sugar-sweetened Pepsi Throwback. Some say it tastes better. Just don’t let savvy marketers convince you that what you’re drinking is healthy. It isn’t! (You’re better off taking your chances with a mug of unsweetened hot tea.)

Or, for those who speak Yoda: Real sugar does not a healthy drink make.

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Feel the Burn?

May 8th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Steaming hot tea can be hazardous to your health!

Steaming hot tea can be hazardous to your health!

No, I’m not talking about calorie burn. I’m talking about that steaming hot cup of tea some of us enjoy every day.

I recently read some discouraging news: A new study shows that, if drank too soon after brewing, hot tea can be hazardous to your health—and lead to deadly throat cancer!

As a dedicated tea drinker, this news took the steam right out of my sails (pun intended). I don’t know about you, but for me, tea’s slightly odiferous flavor and moist steam, inhaled as I drink, heighten the appeal of its caffeinated goodness.

Without the steam, it just isn’t the same. After all, who likes lukewarm tea?

According to the study, recently published in the British Medical Journal, letting tea steep for four to 10 minutes—and cool a measly nine degrees—before drinking can cut the risk of cancer by half.

That seems significant. Not only does drinking too-hot tea put our health at risk; it puts insurance rates at risk too.

Maybe I’d better rethink my tea-drinking strategy!

For more information on these recent findings, read our article on tea drinking here. Then decide for yourself, and let us know your thoughts: is the trade-off in temperature worth it?

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Even Deadlier Than Swine Flu

May 4th, 2009 by Jeb Foster

flu

When I wrote this article on Swine Flu (and other deadly things) last Friday, it seemed the Aporkalypse was at hand.

Today, a mere three days later, the H1N1 virus already seems like old news. Even Mexico City residents are starting to take off their masks. Phew. [Knocking on wood]

Of course, some experts worry that the Swine Flu could reemerge in six months as an even deadlier virus. Let’s hope not. Still, I’ll take an Aporkalypse Later over an Aporkalypse Now any day of the week.

In the meantime, click here to read about all of the other things you should be scared of—things that make the Swine Flu look as cute and cuddly as Babe. In fact, you’ll learn that your standard, run-of-the-mill flu is far deadlier (statistically) than H1N1.

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When Wildlife Invades

April 10th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Coyote on a Spring DayIf you’ve ever gone camping and accidentally left a sack of food out overnight, you know how much critters like coyotes, raccoons and skunks love to forage through our discards for scraps—and anything else they can get their paws on.

Place your trash next to the garbage can outside your home and you’ll often get the same results.

Just like us, animals of all shapes and sizes have to eat, feed their babies and find a safe, warm place to curl up and sleep. But when they take up residence in our homes, yards, attics or trash cans, that’s where most people draw the line.

Sometimes animals wander onto our property and cause damage to our homes in an effort to eat or get inside. That’s where prevention becomes important, for our own safety, the animal’s, and for the sake of our home insurance, which pays to repair the damage when animals cross into the space where we live and work.

Recent news reports document animals like hungry coyotes venturing into suburban neighborhoods like never before in search of food. And  mountain dwellers sometimes witness bears trying to enter their homes for the very same reason.

Instances like these can pose a threat to the safety of both man and beast.

To avoid crossing paths with nature at home, we need to take steps to make our homes and properties secure and less inviting—to small and large animals alike.

If wildlife in your area seem to gravitate toward your home, try:

  • Checking your home’s exterior for holes, gaps and other points of entry or exit
  • Placing fencing around areas of the property you want to protect
  • Putting trash in closed containers with secure lids

For more ideas on keeping wildlife away, check out our article titled, When Animals Invade: Crossing Paths with Nature at Home. And if you have any stories to share on the subject, we’d love to hear them!

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What Is Insurance For?

April 6th, 2009 by Jeb Foster

Last week, a visitor to our web site submitted the following question (we’re taking questions now—ask yours here):

If a tree in my yard falls on neighbor’s roof, does my insurance pay for the damage? What if a tree is ready to fall down on my house—will my insurance company pay to remove the tree?

It’s a good question, and I suspect that it’s one that many homeowners have, and like most questions involving insurance, there are more shades of grey than appears at first blush. Read the answer here.

But the second question—will my insurer pay to have a weak tree removed—points to a very common misconception about insurance in general, and this misunderstanding centers around this seemingly straightforward question: What is insurance for?

While insurance has changed over the years, it still retains its original purpose: to insulate people from the destructive and costly whims of man and nature.

Actually, the addition of “man” (aka Homo litigious) to the mix is relatively new. Most of the big property-casualty insurers (the ones insuring your homes and cars) started out providing insurance to Midwestern farmers, who were (and still are) victim to the cruel hand of mother nature. (The addition of liability coverage came with our country’s gradual embrace of lawsuits as a cash-acquisition strategy.)

Anyway, back to the point. Insurance is supposed to cover us in the event of accident or extreme weather event or other calamity that would be financially perilous. It is not meant to pay for things we’d simply rather not pay for, like tree removal, for example. That would count as maintenance, and if insurers got in the business of paying to maintain houses, well, they’d either go bankrupt or raise your premiums by 1000 percent.

Insurers get a lot of flack, and some of it is earned. But some of their unpopularity comes from a basic misunderstanding of what insurance is supposed to cover.

Related:

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Overweight Kids Facing Ill Health as Adults

April 2nd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

Does this look familiar in your home?

Does this look familiar in your home?

Childhood obesity is quickly becoming an epidemic in our country. Of concern to parents, doctors and health insurance companies alike, more than one-third of all children in the U.S. now fall in the overweight or obese category.

What’s so bad about a few extra pounds? you ask. Don’t most kids outgrow that “chubby” phase and grow up to be slim, average-sized adults?

Some do. But even if they lose excess weight as adults, chubby kids aren’t guaranteed a healthy life, says a study by the Institute of Preventive Medicine.

According to that study, obese children actually have a significantly higher risk of heart disease in adulthood—as early as age 25—even if they lose the excess weight.

And heart disease isn’t the only health risk that threatens. Other weight-related illnesses like diabetes and hypertension also rear their ugly heads as overweight children age.

Experts predict that by the time today’s adolescents turn 35, up to 37 percent of men and 44 percent of women will be obese. With that much risk inherent, finding good health insurance is also likely to become challenging.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By becoming good examples, demonstrating a healthy lifestyle and teaching our kids to be active and eat nutritiously from the time they’re young, we can help them stay healthy, get insured—and maybe even live longer.

For more information on this growing epidemic, read our article titled Weigh in: do your kids make the grade?

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Trampoline Season Begins

March 30th, 2009 by Jeb Foster

Speaking of springtime hazards, with temperatures rising, children everywhere are turning from their TV sets to their backyard trampolines.

In some respects, you could argue that this is a good thing: children are increasingly sedentary these days, and adolescent obesity is on the rise, so physical activity should be embraced in all its forms, right?

Well, when it comes to trampolines, maybe not. To put it mildly, backyard trampolines are accidents waiting to happen, both for your child and you. Any emergency room worker or insurance claim adjuster will attest to the medical and financial hazards of defying gravity in this way.

According to a 2007 study by Rhode Island Hospital, over a half a million children were injured jumping on trampolines between 2000 and 2005. These injuries ranged from minor bruises to paralysis-causing spinal injuries.

Trampolines also pose an extreme financial risk to homeowners, which is why most insurance companies refuse to insure property that has one, even if the trampoline has protective nets and padding. Some home insurers will allow them, but only with the purchase of a expensive rider on the policy.

Insurers are skittish because trampolines are known in tort law as “attractive nuisances,” which are objects, locations or conditions that are dangerous and attractive to children. In most states, the law holds owners of these nuisances responsible for keeping children safe, even if they are injured while trespassing.

So if you currently have a tramp in the backyard, we strongly encourage you to dismantle it. If you don’t have one and your child keeps pestering you to buy one, we recommend you exercise your parental veto power.

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