Auto Insurance Coverage

Recently, one of our clients called to report that her teen-aged daughter had been in an auto accident.  While stopped at a light, her car had been rear-ended by another car, which resulted in some whiplash for the daughter.  The car was a total loss.

I advise all my clients who are involved in accidents, either at-fault (ie, when their own insurance is called upon) or not-at-fault (the other person’s insurance comes into play) to prepare for some inconvenience and, perhaps, annoyance. Even with that in mind, this should have been a routine claim, in which the insurance carrier for the other driver would have paid the entirety of the medical charges as well as the book-value of the car.*  But, as is far too often the case, what seems routine can often become complicated.  In this case, the daughter, now in her late teens, had a seizure disorder when she was very young.  After the accident, her doctor recommended a series of tests to determine if the jossling her brain took could result in re-triggering the disorder.  The tests could be expensive.

So what’s the problem?  The other driver’s insurance carrier (under the liability coverage) incurs the responsibility for all of the expenses related to bodily injury. True, but only to the policy limits and, in this case, the limits were for only the state-mandated minimum: $25,000 per person/$50,000 per occurrence.** The insurance carrier?  One of those whose TV ads are as ubiquitous as they are intellectually grating (lizards, cave men, ditzy-yet-endearing waitress types; you get the idea) and who predict they can save you money (let’s say, oh, about 15%) over your current coverage.

How? Often via lower limits, ie less coverage.  The so-called 15% savings can quickly be realized from reducing the bodily injury and property damage, as well as the uninsured motorist (ie coverage for you in case whomever hits you doesn’t have enough coverage) and medical payment limits, down to the state-mandated minimum.  After all, you’re not required to carry more coverage than that.  And to many people, in their zeal to save money, this is attractive.  I see this regularly, though, I must note, not always, when reviewing the policies from these carriers for potential new customers.  We, like virtually every independent agent, will not not write auto policies for less-than-adequate limits, usually at least $300,000, and preferably $500,000. To do otherwise would abrogate our responsibility to our clients.

Can the “call 1-800/Endless TV ad insurance companies” save you some money and provide adequate coverage?  In some cases, of course they can; auto insurance is a competitive product.  Can they provide the advice and attention an independent agent like Finn and Stone will provide for you for the same premium?  Probably not.  And when you have a claim, (whether it’s your fault) you won’t consider how cheap your car insurance is; you’ll want to be sure you’re adequately covered, and that there’s an agent like us who will take the time to help you through the claim.

*Arriving at fair compensation for your totalled vehicle can require some preparation and negotiation.  We suggest researching the book value via one of the on-line services.
**Because the cost of our customer’s tests and any follow up treatment could easily

Scheduled Jewelry Insurance

My father, who was an insurance broker for 30 years, kept a slim little book near his desk called “So You Think You’re Covered?” Obviously, with all the many coverage changes over the years the book became dated to the point of near-obsolesence, but the concept remains true even to this day: Misconceptions about insurance coverage are common.

Here’s a recent example: A few weeks ago I received a call from one of our homeowners clients. She was upset because she had lost a pair of very old diamond earrings. Her grandmother had given them to her many years ago, so, as you can imagine, the sentimental value was very high. She wondered if her homeowners policy would cover the cost of replacing them. I checked her policy to determine if the earrings were “scheduled,” which means that the insurance company had been provided with an appraisal from a qualified jeweler describing the earrings and attesting to their value (if they’d been newer, the bill of sale would have sufficed). The earrings would thus have been “scheduled,” that is, insured separately and for their appraised value, on her policy under a personal articles floater for a small additional premium. Unfortunately, the earrings were not scheduled and the claim was denied under the “mysterious disappearance” (yes, it’s really called that) exclusion* on a homeowners policy. If the earrings had been scheduled, they would have been covered for their replacement cost.

Jewelry, and many other items, have coverage limitations under even the broadest homeowners policy. This is why every year we send our clients a letter asking them to consider and review if they own items, such as jewelry, silver, artwork, or antiques that may need to be scheduled. So, please don’t “think you’re covered” for a certain loss; call us and ask before it occurs.

*So, you’re probably asking, is my jewelry covered at all? Unscheduled jewelry is indeed covered under a homeowners policy, typically to a limit of about $2500, but is subject to the same conditions and exclusions, as well as the deductible, as other personal property. You’re covered for such perils as fire and theft, but if you lose an item of unscheduled jewelry, there’s no coverage. A scheduled item, however, would be covered if it were lost.

New Website!

Welcome to our new website! If you are a current Finn & Stone client, thank you! We appreciate your business very much. If you are not, please look around and see what you think. There is a lot of information here because we want to be a resource for you. We are going to offer lots of ideas to make the insurance process easier for you. Please check out our new Facebook and Linkedin page too. This is our 50th year and we are excited to be a growing, vibrant insurance agency in southern Vermont. If we can help you with anything or answer any questions, please contact us today. We look forward to working with you!

Supplemental Insurance with Aflac

I recently contracted with Aflac to represent them as a broker to my clients. A lot of my accounts already offer Aflac but I was never excited about them. I have always thought of supplemental insurance as “overinsurance”. I felt as long as you had a good health insurance product, you shouldn’t need to pay more money to supplement it. But that was back when most people had low deductibles and copays to cover office visits and prescriptions. There really wasn’t a need for more insurance.

But times have changed and most people now have large deductibles. I have a $3000 deductible and that is very common. Employers have had to increase deductibles in an effort to reduce costs. This is where Aflac can help. We offered an Aflac accident plan, a cancer plan and a hospital plan to all Finn & Stone employees. 60% of our employees bought something and with prices ranging from $14-$40 a month, I think it is money well spent. Call or email me today if you would like more information on Aflac products.

Roof Collapse

Someone once said that “winters in Vermont are like 10 pounds of ham for 2 people. It just goes on and on and on.” This past winter was especially long with an awful lot of snow. Vermont had a record amount of barn and roof collapses because of it. I have lived in Vermont for 15 years and this is the first winter we had to rake our roof. “Collapse” is not always a “covered peril” so make sure you know if your roofs are covered. If you have a barn with animals in it, collapse is a serious issue. Check with your agent to make sure you are adequately covered.

Basement Water Coverage

One of the most common claims we have is water in the basement. Most homeowner policies limit “water back up and sump pump overflow” coverage. If you have a finished basement, you might not have enough coverage. We finished our basement a few years ago and turned it into a gym. Now, along with our washer and dryer, we have three pieces of expensive gym equipment. If we had water in our basement, basic coverage would not be enough. At my last renewal, I increased my coverage to $25,000 and the additional annual premium was $55. Well worth it for the piece of mind to know I am adequately covered. Be sure and check with us if this a concern for you.

Vermont moving toward single-payer health care

BRATTLEBORO, Vermont (Reuters) – Vermont became the first state to lay the groundwork for single-payer health care on Thursday when its governor signed an ambitious bill aimed at establishing universal insurance coverage for all residents.

“This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative,” Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin said as he signed the bill into law at the State House.

“We must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business.”

Legislators say the plan, approved by the Democratic controlled House and Senate this spring, aims to extend coverage to all 620,000 residents while containing soaring health care costs.

A key component establishes a state health benefits exchange, as mandated by new federal health care laws, that will offer coverage from private insurers, state-sponsored and multi-state plans. It also will include tax credits to make premiums affordable for uninsured Vermonters.

The exchange, called Green Mountain Care and managed by a five-member board, will set reimbursement rates for health care providers and streamline administration into a single, unified system.

Residents and small employers will be able to compare rates from the various plans and enroll for coverage of their choosing.

As designed, the goal is an eventual state-funded and operated single-payer system.

But its sponsors say that outcome is far from certain. The plan will be phased in over several years, with an evolving financial structure that mandates a number of conditions.

Among the criteria are adoption of a financing plan by 2014; ensuring the new system costs less than the current fee-for-service one; and obtaining federal permission via a waiver to allow Vermont to proceed with the single-payer option, in around 2017.

Advocates of change say the existing fee-for-service care has a financial incentive to deliver more care, such as tests, with little attention to quality or better outcomes.

The single-payer concept was omitted from the federal health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, in part due to Republican criticism it meant excessive government control.

Progressives in Vermont, including Shumlin and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, have worked for years to modify the state’s health care system.

Shumlin said he recognized “people have legitimate questions” about how a single-payer plan would be financed and operated.

“We will answer those questions before the legislature takes the next step … We’ll be getting input from all Vermonters moving forward, which is essential.”

If the state secures one key federal waiver related to exchanges, Green Mountain Care could begin as early as 2014. Another waiver needed to implement the single-payer component under federal law would not be available until 2017.

Vermont’s plan calls for the board to consider the likely costs of coverage, factor in potential savings from reforms and recommended sources of revenue. It is charged with delivering a financing plan to legislators by 2013.

If that plan’s single-payer component is adopted, lawmakers would approve a budget annually.

Single-payer proponents say the present system is too expensive and excludes too many residents. Vermont has around 47,000 uninsured and 150,000 underinsured residents.

But critics are wary of what a new program will cost and which taxes would help finance it. It is not yet clear whether it would involve increases such as a higher payroll tax.

The state’s health care spending runs about $5 billion annually, with costs rising between 6.5 percent and 8.5 percent in recent years.

Some experts say a revised system would save an estimated $580 million annually, and $1.9 billion by 2019, while creating several thousand jobs.

By Zach Howard – Thu May 26, 5:36 pm ET