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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New 'Pay-as-You-Drive' Insurance Plans Help Some Drivers Save

New usage-based insurance plans that require a small plug-in device that collects data on your personal driving habits and reports back to your insurer can help produce significant savings for some drivers on auto insurance. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
For the most part, your car insurance rate is based on data, with things like your gender, age, address and education level factored in. But if you're a good driver, why should you be penalized for the faults of your peers? Enter the growing trend of usage-based insurance plans, also referred to as Pay as You Drive.
"You know, it's taking off, but yet, still less than 1 percent of all drivers are enrolled in one of these programs, so it really hasn't hit the mass market yet," says Laura Adams, a senior insurance analyst with "But for those that are enrolled, they're saving a lot of money, in some cases as much as 30 or 40 percent."
In many cases, the programs involve a small plug-in device that collects data on your personal driving habits and reports back to your insurer.
Vanessa Baylor is an agency principal with Allstate. Their recently launched DriveWise program monitors several things, including mileage.
"If it's low mileage that we're specifically looking for, it's between 25 and 40 miles per day," Baylor says.
In addition to how much you drive, carriers are also interested in when.
"If you've got a night shift, let's say, and you're driving between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., that is not favorable to an insurance company," Adams says. "Many accidents happen in the wee hours of the morning."
Feel the need for speed? Anything over 80 miles per hour is a red flag. So is slamming on the brakes.
Factoring all of that in, the Drivewise program then issues you a rating. The better the grade, the deeper the discount.
"Most drivers average around a B rating," Baylor says.
If you know you're not the best driver, you might be reluctant to give this type of program a try. But here's the thing: there's no penalty. Your rate won't go up based on your bad habits. Good drivers get rewarded with serious savings. Everyone else, well, maybe greater awareness will make you a better driver."
That's proven to be the case with Baylor, who's enrolled in DriveWise herself and regularly reviews her own behavior online.
"Actually, I have stopped braking as much, so it has helped me improve with my driving experience," she says.
While many insurance companies now offer usage-based options, Pay as You Go programs are not available in every state.

Even with Obamacare, shopping for health insurance isn’t as easy as buying a plane ticket

In-person enrollment help played a huge role in Obamacare’s first year. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
I've written recently about the importance of in-person assistance during the first year of Obamacare's coverage expansion. And new Kaiser Family Foundation polling of these assistance programs today shows just how much help people need with purchasing health insurance.
The big headline from this morning's poll was about how many people actually received some kind of personal assistance during the Affordable Care Act's first enrollment period — KFF estimates that at 10.6 million people. But I wanted to pull out some of the poll findings illustrating just how hard it is for people to choose a plan on their own.
Just 13 percent of assistance programs said they spent, on average, less than an hour with each person they helped. Most spent between 1-2 hours, but some averaged much higher.

What kind of help were people looking for? The top three reasons given all involved the mechanics of health insurance — 87 percent cited a limited understanding of the ACA, 83 percent said difficulty understanding plan choices and 80 percent said they weren't confident enough to pick something on their own.
Further, almost 90 percent of assistance programs said they heard from people they helped after enrollment. The reasons varied, but there was confusion about plan choices and payment issues.

That suggests that people who needed help in the program's first year could likely need it again in the second. The administration tried to make it easier on those enrollees by allowing automatic renewal, but it also looks like people will need to shop around if they want to get a good deal and stay enrolled.
Just before's awful launch in the fall, President Obama said Americans would be able to go online to shop for health insurance the "same way you'd shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon." That, of course, was a sales pitch to get people to look at the enrollment Web site (before we knew how bad it'd be at the start). But today's polling data and similar polls in recent months show that just isn't the case — and the law's implementers need to plan appropriately for that.

Packers, American Family Insurance renew partnership for 10 years

Partnership includes new Lambeau Field gate on stadium's east side

The Green Bay Packers and American Family Insurance today announced that the Madison, Wis.-based insurance company will renew and expand its partnership with the Packers to become the “Official Insurance Company of the Green Bay Packers” through the 2023 season. Included in the partnership will be American Family’s sponsorship of Lambeau Field’s new east-side gate – the American Family Insurance Gate – which will welcome fans to Lambeau Field throughout the year. American Family is also sponsoring two unique interactive fan programs – DreamDrive and DreamZone – that will run during Packers training camp.
American Family and the Green Bay Packers have worked together since 2005.
“We’re very happy to continue working closely with American Family Insurance through this 10-year partnership,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy.  “We share a commitment to Wisconsin residents and the community that will be greatly enhanced with this expanded relationship.  The new American Family Insurance Gate is a great addition to Lambeau Field, and will enhance the experience of our fans.”
DreamDrive is a newly designed bike event for Packers fans and families at training camp, centered on the storied training camp tradition where Packers players ride children’s bikes to and from practice. Five special bikes, incorporating themes that celebrate Wisconsin’s rich heritage, will be provided for kids to use.
Fun activities for fans and families will also be offered at the American Family Insurance DreamZone, located adjacent to DreamDrive. The DreamZone will operate during the first week of training camp inside of the revamped Tundra Tailgate Zone. The area will feature inspirational and engaging activities centered on the pursuit of dreams.
“American Family Insurance encourages people to pursue their dreams and count on us to protect them,” said Jack Salzwedel, chairman and CEO of American Family Insurance. “The Packers’ storied history, players, fans and community epitomize the idea of dreams fulfilled and makes this ongoing partnership a great fit with our company. We’re excited to strengthen our affiliation with this iconic team even more with the addition of the new American Family Insurance Gate, DreamZone and DreamDrive.”
The two organizations have worked on a variety of activities through the years, including the Packers Heart Cap campaign to raise money for heart disease research and prevention, and the Breast Cancer Cap campaign which raised money for the fight against breast cancer. They also partnered to raise money for the military through the Packers Military Support Cap.
About American Family Insurance
Based in Madison, Wis., American Family Insurance is 373rd on the Fortune 500 list and offers auto, homeowners, life, commercial and farm/ranch insurance in 19 states. It is the nation’s third largest mutual property/casualty insurance company. Web:; Facebook:; Twitter: Google amfam/

Hearing on homeowners insurance rates rescheduled

A hearing on the insurance industry’s request for an average increase of 25.3 percent on homeowners insurance rates has been postponed until October.
The hearing, originally set for Aug. 6, is now set for Oct. 20 beginning at 9 a.m. in the Dobbs Building at 430 N. Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh.
Postponing the hearing, according to the state Insurance Department, will give its experts time to prepare testimony in light of revisions to the rate hike request filed by the N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents the insurance industry.
The hearing will be presided over by Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin. Both the industry and the Insurance Department will present their cases.
The hearing was scheduled in February after the Insurance Department concluded that the industry’s rate hike request wasn’t justified. The requested increase averages 25.3 percent but varies by region — from a decrease of 2.7 percent to an increase of as much as 35 percent along the coast.

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Auto insurance discounts you may be missing

With gas prices stuck at a permanently high level, you need to look for any edge that might cut your total car costs. Start by making sure you aren't missing any auto insurance discounts, some of them new.
Financial website notes that fierce competition among insurers leads to a steady introduction of new discounts. Bankrate surveyed the top 10 auto insurers and found that some discounts have been introduced or greatly expanded in the past year, including those for having daytime running lights and for driving low annual mileage.
You may have to dig for some of these discounts. "You can't assume that your insurance company knows that you added an antitheft system to your car or that your alma mater offers an alumni discount," says Doug Whiteman, Bankrate insurance analyst. "It's your responsibility to tell your provider and ask for the discount." He adds: "This simple step could save you hundreds of dollars a year."
Some discounts are well-established, such as those for having auto and homeowners insurance with the same company, but you nonetheless should consider taking advantage of them. Some others in this category are being in the military, taking a defensive driving course (especially for seniors) and as much as 15 percent discount for a young driver on your policy who gets good grades.
Also, remember that driving carefully and avoiding accidents for a long period (often five years) can cut your rates. Most major insurers give discounts for air bags, antilock brakes and antitheft devices. However, available discounts will vary by state depending on the regulations where you live.
Other discounts are newer and less well-known. Here are some to look for:
Datyime running lights Low-intensity lights that turn on whenever your engine is started have long been required in Canada. Research there found an 11 percent reduction in daytime accidents. The U.S. doesn't require them, but several manufacturers have installed them voluntarily. So, if your car is from General Motors (GM), Toyota (TM), Volvo, Mercedes-Benz or Subaru, check into savings with this discount.
Alumni and affinity groups Half the top 10 auto insurers have arrangements for discounts with alumni associations of some universities, fraternities and sororities, and professional associations. I had never heard of this one until recently when our insurance agent pointed out that my wife's alumni association entitled us to a discount.
Newer cars Half the insurers surveyed also give discounts for cars three years or newer. This presumably results from tightening federal safety regulations that have made more and more safety equipment -- such as traction control that helps avoid rollover accidents -- mandatory on all new cars.
Low mileage If you drive relatively few miles a year, your insurance costs can be reduced. But the companies won't take your word for it. This discount usually involves installing an electronic device in your car that measures your actual mileage and sends it to the insurer. Getting this discount can also mean surrendering a bit of privacy because some of these devices also measure how you drive, whether you speed or stop and start aggressively, for instance.
Discounts will often save you money, but they aren't the whole story. J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, points out that in the current market, your credit history is among the most important factors in determining your insurance premium.
And he notes that the insurer with the most discounts may not have the lowest rates. Always check the bottom line. Says Hunter: "You really have to be careful."

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Marketplace insurance customers asked to verify info

Potentially thousands of central Wisconsin residents who signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace are being asked to clear up questions about their personal information that could affect their coverage.
Reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general revealed key personal details submitted by customers, including annual income and citizenship information, don't match records the government has on file.
Individuals with inconsistencies in their applications have been receiving notification letters since early May, said Marty Anderson, director of marketing and consumer products for Security Health Plan. Security Health Plan provides marketplace insurance to customers in Clark, Marathon, Portage and Wood counties in central Wisconsin.
About 6,000 of Security Health Plan's 25,000 statewide members have received letters so far. The Associated Press reported in June about 2.1 million out of 8 million people enrolled in marketplace coverage had at least one data discrepancy in their application as of April 28.
If state statistics follow the pattern of Security Health Plan and nationwide numbers, 30,000 to 35,000 of the 140,000 Wisconsin residents enrolled in marketplace insurance could have discrepancies on their applications.
The most common discrepancies in the federal market had to do with citizenship and immigration status, but some customers are being asked to clear up name and address errors.
"Inconsistencies do not necessarily indicate that an applicant provided inaccurate information ... or is receiving financial assistance through insurance affordability programs inappropriately," the inspector general's report stated.
Congressional Republicans who called for the report were concerned people not legally entitled to receive government-subsidized health insurance could nonetheless be getting it.
Anderson said he thought the majority of discrepancies affecting Security Health Plan customers involved income documentation. For example, seasonal workers who anticipate earning less in 2014 than they reported on their 2013 federal income taxes might need to provide documents supporting the anticipated income reduction.
Security Health Plan and other insurance providers have been notified which members received inconsistency notices, but not what the inconsistencies are.
"We've been reaching out via phone and email to follow up on the federal government's notice," Anderson said.
Customers who receive inconsistency notices have 30 days to respond. The requested documentation can be uploaded through the website or sent by mail. Anderson recommended submitting the documentation as soon as possible and notifying the federal government via the hotline if documentation was sent by mail.
Those who don't respond to the inquiries could face a reduction in their premium tax credit or lose their insurance if the government learns the customer is not a citizen or legal immigrant.
"Of the people who enrolled, 98 percent are receiving a premium tax credit subsidy, and there could be a detrimental impact if they have the tax credit revoked or reduced," Anderson said. About 60 percent of those who receive premium tax credits pay 80 percent or more of their premium using the subsidy.
"We don't want to see anyone losing their coverage or their credit," he said.
Representatives from Compcare Health Services Insurance Corp., which serves Marathon, Portage and Wood counties, and WPS Health Plan Inc., which serves Marathon and Wood counties, did not provide information about how the inconsistency notices were affecting customers by the time of publication.
Marisa Cuellar can be reached at 715-384-3131. Find her on Twitter as @cuellm34.

Newest Health Insurance Customers Are Generally Happy

We’ve known for a few months now that lots of people signed up for health insurance this year in new marketplaces. A new survey shows that the people who did so are also pretty happy with their purchases.
The survey, from the Commonwealth Fund, a research group, came to similar conclusions as other surveys about the expansion of health insurance. It found that about 15 percent of adults younger than 65 now lack health insurance, down from 20 percent before the Affordable Care Act rolled out in January.
What was more surprising is that people who got the new coverage were generally happy with the product. Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before — including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year — were happy with their new coverage.
In March, people waited at a mall in Miami to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Larry Levitt, the senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, another research group that polls on the Affordable Care Act, said he wasn’t sure we’d see such high satisfaction so early. The law’s requirement that Americans obtain insurance always made him wonder whether people would be glad to have insurance if they felt forced to buy it. “It’s possible people may have felt coerced into buying coverage, even if they didn’t like it or didn’t feel it was a good value,” he said in an email. “That doesn’t seem to be happening so far.”
The Commonwealth poll appears to be the first national survey since the health-law passed to have gone beyond questions about insurance status and asked about satisfaction and usage.
The survey also found that a majority of people are using their new insurance. The survey found that 60 percent of the newly insured had gone to a doctor or a hospital or filled a prescription with their new plan. Of those, more than 60 percent said they wouldn’t have been able to afford the care without their new coverage. Most people seeking new primary care doctors found the process fairly easy and had to wait less than two weeks for an appointment.
That news, of course, can cut both ways. It may be a sign that the new plans are working as intended by making it easy for people to have access to affordable care. It may also be a sign that those newly insured people are relatively sick and will be particularly expensive to insure. Commonwealth found that about 70 percent of people using their plans had a pre-existing health problem. It will take some time to see how costly this new population turns out to be.
It’s also early to know whether this happiness will last. You might expect the first people to sign up for a new program to be those most enthusiastic about its prospects to improve their life. But with widespread coverage of complaints about high costs and limited networks of doctors, the new study suggests that, among the early adopters, at least, the benefits of coverage outweigh the problems.
There is reason to think that the good feelings may linger. Americans may complain about the details of their health insurance, but they are generally happy with it once they have it. An Associated Press poll in January found that 73 percent of all Americans with insurance before the rollout of the law were satisfied.