Things to Know if you Want Affordable Health Insurance
The continued trend of increased health care costs, which we have faced in the past decade, is not likely to end soon. On the contrary, with the financial crisis and the ever-increasing health insurance costs and health care service rates, many consumers find this burden getting heavier and heavier for the family budget. According to Health Insurance Guidance, a consumer website that helps online surfers with finding the best health insurance in their state, consumers need to consider the following:
1. Going without health insurance will cost you more than you think.
Don’t save your money on insurance coverage as you could face hundreds of dollars in bills from a simple accident; and imagine the burden of a serious illness on your family budget.
2. Don’t hesitate to participate in your employer’s health insurance program.
Even if you feel healthy and young, a group health insurance program offered by your employer would be a great thing to consider joining.
3. Take time to compare different health insurance plans.
Unlike the case of auto insurance, there’s no standard policy when it comes to health insurance as different plans mean different types and amount of coverage, and the costs differ respectively. Study thoroughly every insurance plan you are offered.
4. Affordable health insurance is not always about the lowest premium.
Affordable health insurance is all about getting the most benefits for the lowest price for such a set of features. The types and amount of coverage your plan provides is more important than the price.
5. Even comprehensive health coverage can have big loopholes.
There’s a wide set of conditions of services (like mental health, vision and dental care) that are still not included even in plans with a good overall coverage. These services are strictly optional so be careful when reading through the contract.
6. Freedom of choice will cost you more.
Expect to go only with a pre-set list of health care providers if you’re looking for affordable health plans with the widest coverage options. Having options among specialists and facilities will cost additional premiums or higher deductibles.
7. Check out the participating health care provider network before you sign with a plan.
There are numerous sources, both public and private, that can provide you with information on facilities, specialists and health insurance plans.
8. Losing your job doesn't mean losing your insurance.
If you leave your job, you can still have health insurance coverage under the previous employer’s health plan based on certain state and federal laws. You will, however, have to pay both your premium amount and the health premium amount that was previously subsidized by your employer.
9. There’s a lot to think about for working couples.
If you and your spouse are both able to get health insurance coverage from your employers, you should think whether it is necessary for you to have two policies, or just have one covering both of you. If you have children, you should think about whose policy will cover them.
10. Get a tax break.
Health care expenditures (and health insurance premiums being a part of them) are not tax deductible until they make up 7.5 percent of your income. Still, in case your employer has a flexible spending account or you are an individual entrepreneur, you can opt for a tax reduction.
Mortgage Fraud Investigation
The United States Attorney’s Office recently accepted a DISB-FBI case for prosecution in which a suspect admitted to acting as a straw buyer in the sale of two District properties and one Maryland property. Previously, DISB’s Enforcement and Investigation Bureau met with the FBI to present the case, which is part of a larger mortgage fraud scheme in the DC metropolitan area.
DISB Reminds Auction Rate Securities Investors to Contact Firms About Buyback Offers
State securities regulators continue efforts to provide relief to investors who have had funds frozen in the auction rate securities (ARS) market. DISB recently reminded ARS investors of their redemption opportunities, which were reached as part of the settlements between securities regulators and several prominent Wall Street firms. While some repurchases have been made, many more are to come in the months ahead. Investors should be aware that the offers to repurchase their ARSs will not be available indefinitely. DISB urged investors with questions about the repurchase program to contact the firm from which they originally purchased their auction rate securities.
Those firms and their ARS hotlines are: Bank of America (866-638-4183), Citi (866-720-4802), Deutsche Bank (866-926-1437), Goldman Sachs (888-350-2857), JP Morgan (866-450-8470), Merrill Lynch (888-706-1381), Morgan Stanley (800-566-2273), UBS (800-253-1974) and Wachovia (866-283-7943).
In settlements reached with state and federal securities regulators, 11 firms have agreed in principle to repurchase more than $50 billion of auction rate securities. In consideration of the settlements, securities regulators agreed to terminate investigations into the marketing and sale of ARS to individual investors. The investigations were part of an ongoing state-led effort to address problems in connection with the offer and sale of ARSs.
DISB Assists District Residents with Insurance Complaints to get Restitution
In the past several months, DISB has assisted many District residents with various claims and complaints. In one case, about $11,000 was recovered for a resident, who reported water damage from a leak in his dwelling’s HVAC system. The company’s claim adjuster viewed the water damage and completed a repair estimate that resulted in an original payment of about $5,000. Although the adjuster observed mold damage, he did not follow-up with a mold remediation evaluation. As a result, the mold continued to grow. Because of DISB’s intervention, the company has agreed to pay an additional $5,000 for mold remediation, more than $3,000 for damage to personal property and about $2,000 for cleaning. In another case, DISB received a complaint from a resident, whose wife required immediate lung surgery. Their health insurer authorized it to be performed at a hospital in Baltimore. However, that hospital could not schedule the surgery for two weeks, but another hospital in Pennsylvania could do it sooner. The insurance company, however, did not want the surgery performed there. Due to DISB’s efforts, however, the insurer covered the emergency surgery.
For District residents seeking help with insurance claims or other financial-related claims, please call DISB at (202) 727-8000 or visit our website at disb.dc.govand fill out a complaint form.
DISB in the Community
DISB was on hand to provide insurance information to attendees at the National Caregivers’ Month Information Fair on November 14 at One Judiciary Square in northwest. (L-R) Vadonia Crawford-Mallory from DC Office on Aging sits with DISB’s Public Affairs Specialist Lucy Drafton-Lowery.
For Sisters Only
Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Bryant interacts with attendees at the 10th annual For Sisters Only expo at the Washington Convention Center on November 1, 2008.
NBC 4 Health and Fitness Expo—Saturday, January 10 and Sunday January 11, 9 am to 5 pm
Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW. DISB staff will be attending the 16th annual information expo to discuss the services and resources the agency provides to residents. Topics include insurance, financial literacy, investor protection, financial fraud and mortgage foreclosure among other topics
For additional updates, select the agency calendar on disb.dc.gov.
More Flexibility for Hope for Homeowners Program as Changes Allow More Struggling Families to Keep Their Homes
The US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Steve Preston recently announced that the board of directors for HOPE for Homeowners (H4H) has approved changes to the program to help more distressed borrowers refinance into affordable, government-backed mortgages. The changes will reduce the program costs for consumers and lenders alike while also expanding eligibility by driving down the borrower’s monthly mortgage payments.
These modifications should increase lender participation and help more families having difficulties paying their existing mortgages, but can afford a new affordable loan insured by HUD’s Federal Housing Administration, according to Preston. By taking full advantage of the new authority provided under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) of 2008, HOPE for Homeowners will provide additional mortgage assistance to struggling homeowners.
Modifications to HOPE for Homeowners include:
- Increasing the loan to value ratio (LTV) to 96.5 percent for some H4H loans;
- Simplifying the process to remove subordinate liens by permitting upfront payments to lienholders; and
- Allowing lenders to extend mortgage terms from 30 to 40 years.
It is expected that these changes will further encourage lenders to take a second look at this program before heading down the path to foreclosure and will provide families with another resource to refinance into a loan they can afford. HOPE for Homeowners will continue serving as another loss mitigation tool that can be used to help families keep their homes, as it continues to only offer affordable, government-insured fixed rate mortgages. Further, this program will maintain FHA’s long-standing requirement that new loans be based on a family’s long-term ability to repay the mortgage. Only owner-occupants are eligible for FHA-insured mortgages. The program began October 1, 2008, and will end September 30, 2011.
Read more about HOPE for Homeowners at hud.gov.
DISB Reviewing Consumer Group’s “Fair” Rating of its Website
DISB said recently it is reviewing the “fair” rating its website received from a national consumer group on how it delivers information. The Consumer Federation of America recently rated each state’s insurance department website, finding considerable differences among each regarding information on auto and home insurance provided to consumers, such as rates and practices of individual companies. Twelve states received “good” ratings; the District of Columbia was one of 15 to get a rating of “fair” as did Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; and18 states received the worst grade of “inadequate.”
DISB Commissioner Thomas E. Hampton said he believes the agency should always be looking for ways to improvement the content and information shown on its website. “DISB takes reviews seriously and appreciates feedback from various sources to assist the consumers of the District of Columbia,” he said. He went on further to say that DISB will not only look at the insurance information on the website but also the information the agency provides overall for securities and banking consumers. Only six states were rated “excellent,” according to the study for displaying complete, up-to-date information that is easy for consumers to use. The study found that users of these sites “could easily find current price, complaint and solvency information to make well-informed decisions and could find key information on how to get the best claim settlements as well,” key factors in how the grades were disseminated.
Renting Homes During Inauguration may Reduce Homeowners Coverage
DISB warned District residents wanting to cash in on the inauguration festivities by renting their homes that they need to contact their homeowner insurance agent or company to determine if renting would have an effect on their insurance coverage. The agency is seeking information from the insurance companies that underwrite homeowners’ insurance on how they will adjudicate claims emerging from rentals during the inauguration. Some insurance companies may deny claims if the insureds do not notify the insurance companies of risk changes in advance. DISB issued the warning in light of the number of residents seeking to take advantage of the estimated three-to-four million visitors heading to the District for the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama for the weekend of January 17 to January 20, when he will be inaugurated. Recently, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty temporarily suspended business licensing sanctions on homeowners who want to rent to visitors during that time. DISB urged residents to contact their insurance providers to find out what coverage may be allowed with renters in the home.
For more information, residents should call DISB at (202) 727-8000.
New Regulation D Revisions
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted substantive and technological modifications to Regulation D. It is now requiring electronic filings, and it has added a new category of offerings exclusively to institutions and very high net worth individuals. It is expected that the move will have wide-spread implications for issuers seeking to raise capital through a private placement. The proposals include a new exemption for offerings made to “large accredited investors” and to permit limited advertising to those investors; a clarification of the term “accredited investor;” and a shorter time frame for integration. Mandatory electronic filing of the new Regulation D, Form D will begin March 16, 2009. DISB is drafting a proposed Securities Bulletin and later will perhaps recommend amending the regulations.
Advance Fee Loan Scam
One of the defendants in a nationwide advance fee loan scheme was sentenced in federal court to 57 months incarceration and ordered to pay $416,000 in restitution for his crimes. This DISB-initiated investigation continues in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and US Secret Service. Further efforts have been made to identify additional perpetrators involved in the scam.
Holiday Mishaps: Review Insurance Coverage to Ensure You’re Covered During Holidays
Holiday season mishaps might be humorous in movies but they are not so funny if they happen to you. So, before your family and friends gather to celebrate the season, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), of which DISB is a member, suggests you take the time to review potential mishaps and understand how your insurance might apply. Below are some scenarios to consider:
What if you and a family member are taking turns driving your car to a family gathering and you get into an accident while your relative is driving?
Auto insurance coverage follows the vehicle, so your car will generally be covered while your relative is driving, the same as if you were driving. For example, if your family member slides off the road due to a patch of ice, and you only have liability coverage, there would not be coverage for any damage to the car itself, no matter who was driving. In addition, keep in mind that your premiums might increase due to the accident.
What if someone breaks your car’s window and steals gifts from the back seat while your car is parked at the mall?
Standard homeowners and renter’s insurance policies provide coverage for this peril, subject to the policy deductible and coverage limits. Some automobile policies also provide coverage. If this happens to you, talk with your insurance agent or company to find out under which policy you should file your claim.
Credit Card Theft
What if you lose your credit card and someone uses it to buy a big screen television?
Credit card theft might be covered as part of your credit card contract. Standard homeowners insurance policies typically provide up to $500 of coverage toward your legal obligation to pay your creditor. However, coverage is not provided if a family member, entrusted with the card, buys a big screen television. Federal law also limits a cardholder’s responsibility as long as the issuer of the credit card is promptly notified in accordance with the terms and conditions of the cardholder agreement.
What if the holiday eggnog is bad and you end up in an urgent care while you are out of state?
Most health insurance policies provide coverage for urgent care and emergency room visits while traveling, if they provide for such coverage at home. If you plan to travel, be sure to take your health insurance information for all family members—including your identification cards and contact details—with you. Co-payments associated with urgent care visits are typically lower than co-payments for emergency room visits. Before leaving town, it is also a good idea to check with your insurance company about in-network healthcare providers at your destination. If you receive medical care from an out-of-network provider, you might be subject to higher deductibles and/or co-payments.
Get more information about your changing insurance needs and tips for choosing the coverage that is best for you and your family by checking the Insure U link on DISB’s website.