New Medicare cards are coming starting in April

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start mailing redesigned Medicare cards to beneficiaries in Washington state after June 2018. The new card contains a unique, randomly assigned number that replaces consumers' Social Security numbers. The purpose is to prevent fraud, combat identity theft and safeguard taxpayer dollars. All replacement cards should be delivered nationwide by April 2019.

Here are 10 things to know about your new Medicare card:
  1. Mailing takes time: Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend�s or neighbor�s.
  2. Destroy your old Medicare card: Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
  3. Guard your card: Only give your new Medicare number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
  4. Your Medicare number is unique: Your card has a new number instead of your Social Security Number. This new number is unique to you.
  5. Your new card is paper: Paper cards are easier for many providers to use and copy, and they save taxpayers a lot of money. Plus, you can print your own replacement card if you need one!
  6. Keep your new card with you: Carry your new card and show it to your health care providers when you need care.
  7. Your doctor knows it�s coming: Doctors, other health care facilities and providers will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care.
  8. You can find your number: If you forget your new card, you, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your Medicare number online.
  9. Keep your Medicare Advantage card: If you�re in a Medicare Advantage plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage plan ID card is your main card for Medicare � you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, your medical provider may also ask you to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry it too.
  10. Help is available: If you don�t get your new Medicare card by April 2019, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users can call 1-877-486-2048. You can also find help in Washington state from SHIBA advisors in your area by calling 1-800-562-6900 or online. 

Information for TRICARE members in Washington state

military family with two young kids
Our office regulates insurance, but not every kind of insurance. One of the types of insurance we don�t regulate are military health plans, such as TRICARE, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, we occasionally receive complaints, calls, and email inquiries from military members and retirees about those plans.

On Jan. 1, TRICARE�s contracted insurance provider changed from UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans to Health Net Federal Services. We have heard from some consumers and the TRICARE West Region that their call center is experiencing higher volume of calls with long wait times, enrollment backlogs, referral and authorization processing backlogs, and limited network provider directory & delivery issues.

While we are unable to assist in resolving military health plan complaints, we do have information that may help some people:

  • TRICARE West customer service number: 1-844-866-9378
  • Inquiries regarding West Region claims with dates of service prior to January 1, 2018 should be directed to UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans. For all other inquiries, contact Health Net Federal Services at 1-844-866-9378 or go to its online portal.
  • Consumers may file a complaint online with TRICARE.  
  • For more details about the transition from UHC to Health Net Federal Services, see the FAQ for Beneficiaries
  • If you decide to contact your Congressional representative, be sure to include TRICARE West�s response to your inquiry. If they advise you to contact your state�s insurance commissioner, let them know that we do not regulate your insurer. 
  • Find health care information for veterans from the OIC.
If you have questions about another type of insurance � auto, renter, homeowner, or another type of property, you can talk to a consumer advocate by calling 1-800-562-6900 or contact us online.

Insurance fraud hurts consumers, too

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner investigates criminal insurance fraud, receiving approximately 2,000 referrals each year. While insurance fraud may seem like a �victimless� crime � insurance companies carry large reserves of money in part to help pay claims � it actually harms consumers. Insurance fraud costs the average family $400 to $700 per year in increased premiums.



The OIC�s Criminal Investigations Unit (CIU) is staffed by law enforcement and criminal analysts who work with state and local prosecutors to bring charges against the people who are suspected of committing insurance fraud.

In 2017, our fraud investigators:
  • Analyzed and prioritized 1,896 fraud referrals.
  • Opened 102 criminal investigations and closed 93 criminal cases.
  • Submitted 33 complex criminal cases to county, state, and federal prosecutors.
  • Our work resulted in 33 criminal guilty pleas or convictions from 28 defendants.
Here are some examples of insurance fraud:
  • Buying insurance after you need it: Getting a policy after an accident or after a loss has occurred. We see this most often with auto collisions. 
  • Falsifying claims on homeowner or renter insurance: Claiming items that you didn�t actually own or falsifying the circumstances to increase the damage and the claim amount. 
  • Staging car crashes, intentionally causing car crashes (driving slow so someone rear-ends you), submitting fake medical bills after a collision, claiming a car was stolen. 
  • A medical provider billing for services or equipment that the consumer did not receive.
  • An insurance producer (agent or broker) holding onto consumers� premium payments or selling fake policies to earn commissions.
Consumers can help deter insurance fraud in a few important ways:
  • If you see something, say something � if someone tries to rope you into a scam or tries to make you or someone you know the victim of a scam, report it to us.  
  • Make sure you are working with a licensed insurance producer, and check their complaint history on our website. 
  • Read your policies, statements and explanations of benefits forms. The best way to not be a victim is to know what your policy covers, how much you are paying, and the claims your insurance company is paying on your behalf. 
  • The chances of getting away with insurance fraud are slim. Insurance companies have sophisticated data systems that immediately flag suspect claims. People who are convicted of insurance fraud and related crimes often become felons, which means you lose some of your rights like voting, traveling to certain countries, and some public benefits. 

Consumer complaints can lead to investigations, legal action against industry

Consumers can file complaints against insurance companies or against an agent or broker (they are called producers). Sometimes those complaints spur broader investigations where we identify a bigger issue.

That�s where our regulatory investigations unit comes in. We have nine investigators who come from military and civilian law enforcement, and one former insurance producer. The team investigates insurance producers in Washington who violate state insurance laws and rules. If the producer is from another state, we refer the case to that state�s insurance department. We also work closely with our own Criminal Investigations Unit and local law enforcement agencies.

In 2017, our regulatory investigators closed 188 cases, ranging from producers illegally selling insurance without a license to complex cases like annuity scams that target older consumers.

Here are some examples:
  • A simple complaint about a car rental company selling personal accident insurance resulted in an investigation that determined the company had sold 9,054 unauthorized personal accident insurance policies to consumers without being licensed. Our investigators determined the company earned $615,475.60 from the unauthorized sale of these policies. The insurance commissioner fined the company $45,000
  • Discount Tire sold more than 1.2 million unauthorized tire warranties to customers in Washington state. Discount Tire is not licensed to conduct insurance business in Washington state, and made over $32 million in sales from these unauthorized warranties between 2014 and 2016.  
  • While investigating an insurance agency suspected of employing unlicensed employees to sell insurance, one of our investigators posed as a consumer. The investigator worked with an unlicensed agency employee to fined and negotiate an insurance policy. The agency later denied the practice of employing unlicensed producers, not realizing it had had attempted to sell insurance to an OIC Investigator. The insurance commissioner fined the agency $500 for the violation.  
  • A consumer who had a language barrier bought a life insurance policy to cover future funeral expenses. When her husband passed away, the insurance wouldn�t pay the death benefit because her husband had a pre-existing health condition. One of our bilingual investigators worked with the consumer to find out what happened -- the insurance producer failed to ask her the required health questions on the insurance application. Upon review of the insurance application, our investigator found it was not possible to accurately translate the questions for consumers who don't speak English. The insurance commissioner fined the producer and the consumer received a settlement from the insurance company. 
  • A Washington consumer filed a complaint with the insurance commissioner about an annuity. The consumer asked the insurance producer for an annuity with socially responsible investments and she wanted complete access to her funds. The insurance producer sold her an annuity that allocated 20 percent of the funds to oil and gas investments and made none of the funds available to the consumer. The consumer requested a refund on the annuity; the producer, brokerage and the company declined to refund her money. As a result of the insurance commissioner�s investigation, the producer�s license was revoked, the agency was fined $2,000 and the company was ordered to refund the consumer for the annuity plus 8 percent annual interest and pay a $20,000 fine for violating state insurance laws.
If you have a question about your insurance policy, agent or company, you can find us online or call us at 1-800-562-6900.

Free, unbiased health insurance counseling is available in all areas of Washington state

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner oversees Washington�s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA). SHIBA offers free, unbiased and confidential assistance with Medicare and other health care choices.

SHIBA can help you:
  • Understand your Medicare coverage benefits, options and rights.
  • Determine your general eligibility for programs that can help you pay for your Medicare.
  • Evaluate and compare health insurance plans.
In 2017, our 400 SHIBA volunteer advisors helped more than 108,000 people understand Medicare. Advisors are available in communities throughout the state; find one near you.

For people who are about to turn or recently turned 65, we host Medicare events around the state.  You can also find information about Medicare on our website.

Are you interested in becoming a SHIBA volunteer? Find out more

Need more help? Call our Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-562-6900 or find help online.


It's National Consumer Protection Week -- we are here to help with insurance

National Consumer Protection Week is March 4-10 and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner is one of many state agencies that help Washington consumers.

This week, we�ll highlight some of the ways our agency helps consumers. Follow along on social media; you can also subscribe to our blog by email or text.

Most people have at least one type of insurance, whether it be health, home, auto, renter, business or another policy. Our consumer advocates are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer questions about insurance, help you find information and resources about insurance, or help resolve disputes with your insurance company.

Here are some examples of ways we�ve helped consumers recently:
  • An insurance company delayed a total loss claim for a consumer whose vehicle was damaged in a collision.
  • A consumer was airlifted to a hospital and the health insurance company denied the bill for the air ambulance. We helped the consumer get the insurance company to pay the claim in full, worth more than $30,000. 
  • A consumer reached out to us with concerns about a life insurance policy. We recommended the client file a complaint with our office against the insurer. We worked on their behalf, resulting in the consumer receiving a check for more than $100,000.
  • A house fire caused more than $100,000 to a consumer�s home. We helped the consumer work with the insurer to cover the damage and pay to replace the contents that were lost. 
In 2017, we helped recover $18.9 million for consumers related to claims, refunds and billing issues.

If you need help with an insurance question, here�s how you can reach us:
WA OIC 2017 consumer advocacy

If you run a business out of your home, here�s why you should talk to your insurance agent

If you run a business out of your home, your homeowner insurance policy may not cover you adequately. Homeowner insurance policies typically do not cover any losses or liability related to a business.

In other words, if something were to happen related to your business, you would be on the hook for all damage to your property and any ensuing liability (your responsibility for damage to other people�s property or injury to other people).

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you run a business out of your home:
  • Do you keep business related stock or inventory in your home?
  • Do you have specialized or difficult-to-replace equipment that requires special consideration? Many renters or homeowners policies limit office equipment replacement to $2,500. Would this cover the equipment you need to keep your business running?
  • Do clients or customers visit your home office? If so, are you protected against possible lawsuits if a visitor were to injure themselves?
  • If your home office were destroyed by a flood or fire, how would you be compensated for the downtime?
Read more about insurance and your home business on our website. Questions? You can contact our consumer advocates online or at 1-800-562-6900.

Copycat Levain Bakery Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe


INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unsalted cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup packed light brown sugar
� cup graulated white sugar
2 large eggs
� cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (try to use a premium brand for richer flavor)
1 cup cake flour
1� cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
� teaspoon baking soda
� teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used a combination of both)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 410 F.
  2. In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugars on high speed until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add in cocoa, cake flour, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt and set mixer on lowest speed setting to stir until dough is just combined. You want the dough to be smooth and uniform in color, but you don't want to overmix it. Stir in chocolate chunks/chocolate chips.
  4. Visit Copycat Levain Bakery Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies @ kirbiecravings.com for full directions.

Idaho "Freedom Blue" Health Plans Coming Soon?

Vox.com has released some details about Idaho Blue Cross' plans for new, non-ACA health insurance plans.  As mentioned in my blog post of February 1, Blue Cross received legislative approval to offer skinnier and less expensive health insurance plans to individuals & families.

http://davefluker.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-idaho-experiment-exit-obamacare.html

Apparently the five new plans will be dubbed "Freedom Blue" and will come in between 25%-50% cheaper than Obamacare plans.  From what I am reading, it appears that the plans will have some new provisions as well...


  • Up to 50% rate up for applicants with health conditions
  • Pre-existing conditions exclusions for those who fail to maintain prior coverage
  • Lifetime maximum benefits $1,000,000
There will likely be issues between Idaho and the federal government.  

Read the full article on Vox


Dave



3 Minute Microwave Fudge Recipe


This microwave Fudge recipe is unbelievably easy to make! Do you ever have the craving for fudge and you just don�t have the time to wait? I have a super quick and easy 3 ingredient fudge recipe for you that you can make in the microwave!

Serves: 16

INGREDIENTS

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (1-1/2 bags)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
� cup chopped walnuts (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Line a 9" by 9" pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl. Pour sweetened condensed milk over the chocolate chips.
  3. Microwave on high for 60 seconds. Stir well.
  4. Microwave on high for 60 more seconds. Stir well again.
  5. Visit 3 Minute Microwave Fudge @ eatingonadime.com for full instructions.

Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Recipe


These Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are super soft, thick, and loaded with oats and raisins. These cookies are easy to make and so delicious!

Serves: 22-24 cookies

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (125 grams) all purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
� teaspoon ground cinnamon
� teaspoon baking soda
� teaspoon salt
� cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
� cup (100 grams) brown sugar
� cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and � cups (150 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (150 grams) raisins

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar for 1-2 minutes until well combined. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until fully combined.
  3. Visit Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies @ livewellbakeoften.com for full instructions.

New Medicare cards are coming starting in April

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will start mailing redesigned Medicare cards to beneficiaries in Washington state aft...