Preparing for a Flood Before Disaster Strikes

October 15, 2022

Flooding is the most common and most damaging natural disaster in the country. In Florida, where Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters turned towns into rivers, flood risk is higher due to the state’s frequency of storms and proximity to water. Despite this, most insurance policies do not automatically cover flooding. No matter where you live, you should check your auto and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies as an initial step in preparing for a flood to keep you and your loved ones safe when a flood interrupts your lives.

Determining Your Risk Level

To find out the risk level of your property location, visit FloodSmart.gov/Flood-Map-Zone.

Because research has found that FEMA’s flood maps underestimate the danger in some areas as climate change advances, homeowners and renters unaware of their level of risk should act on the following points:

  • Are you in a flash-flood-prone area? Contact the local county geologist or county planning department to find out if your home is in a flash-flood-prone area or a landslide-prone area.
  • Make a communication plan and a disaster plan for your family.
  • Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the “family contact” in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of your contact person.
  • Stay informed. Learn about your community’s emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes, and locations of emergency shelters.
  • Inform local authorities about any special needs, such as elderly or bedridden people, or anyone with a disability.

Preparing Your Home for a Flood

  • Make sure you secure or protect any hazards in your home before the flood strikes.
  • Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water, fallen power lines, or before you evacuate. Turn off gas and water supplies before you evacuate. Secure structurally unstable building materials.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher if you don’t already have one. Make sure your family knows where it is and how to use it.
  • Buy and install sump pumps with backup power.
  • Have a licensed electrician raise electric components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12″ above your home’s projected flood elevation.
  • For drains, toilets, and other sewer connections, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent floodwaters from entering.
  • Anchor fuel tanks can contaminate your basement if torn free. An unanchored tank outside can be swept downstream and damage other houses.

Creating an Emergency Supply Kit

Stock your home with supplies you may need during the flood by creating an emergency supply kit. Visit the CDC’s Personal Health Preparedness page for a list of supplies you’ll want to include in your kit.

Preparing Food and Water Supplies

Make sure you and your family have enough safe food and water (for drinking, cooking, and bathing) available in the event of a flood. For more information, visit Food and Water Needs: Preparing for a Disaster or Emergency.

Reentering Your Flooded Home

When returning to a home that’s been flooded after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, be aware that your house may be contaminated with mold or sewage, which can cause health risks for your family. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reentering your flooded home.

Reviewing Flood Insurance Options

Although you can purchase flood insurance at any time, waiting until a hurricane or major storm is threatening your home may be too late. Many policies take at least 30 days after purchase to take effect.

The National Flood Insurance Program is a pre-disaster flood mitigation and insurance protection program designed to reduce the escalating cost of disasters. This program makes federally backed flood insurance available to residents and business owners. Standard flood insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program generally covers physical damages directly caused by flooding within the limits of the coverage purchased. Private providers may have higher limits or broader coverage compared to National Flood Insurance Program policies.

Regardless of which policy you select for your business or family, any coverage is better than none. If your property experiences flooding impacts from a disaster, it is not guaranteed you will be able to receive federal assistance. If your area has not received a Presidential Disaster Declaration that makes federal assistance available under FEMA, you will not receive federal assistance.

When there is an official Presidential Disaster Declaration, National Flood Insurance Program policyholders are encouraged to apply for FEMA disaster assistance in addition to their flood insurance claim. For more information, visit National Flood Insurance Program or call1-800-621-FEMA.

Filing a Flood Insurance Claim

Flood insurance claims can be filed anytime you experience flooding on your property and can cover both a property and its contents.

If you need to file a flood insurance claim, be informed and prepared so that recovery can move quickly and smoothly. Before a disaster strikes, have updated photos of your home or business so that insurance providers can clearly examine your property and belongings. If your property has experienced flood impacts, take extensive photos of the damages before cleaning up. This will allow insurance providers to compare before and after photos to determine the extent of damages and arrange the best claim payment possible. As you’re cleaning, make a detailed list of lost or damaged items. If you have original receipts for items, hold onto those for documentation in your claim. After gathering all the necessary information, contact your insurance company to begin filing your claim.

InsureYouKnow.org

At InsureYouKnow.org, file your auto, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies, photos before and showing flood damage, an inventory of your home and possessions, and your checklists of supplies needed for emergency events. If you are impacted by a flood, also keep track on this portal of your insurance claims and interactions with your insurance company and FEMA.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Shopping for SHOP Coverage

May 15, 2022

Signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act changed many regulations affecting small businesses and insurance. The law established the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) for small employers —generally those with 1–50 employees—who want to provide health and dental coverage to their employees affordably, flexibly, and conveniently.

Qualifications to provide SHOP coverage

Find out on the HealthCare.gov website if your business or non-profit organization qualifies for SHOP by meeting the following four requirements:

1.  You have 1-50 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs)

  • Use the FTE Calculator to see if you qualify. Note: To qualify for SHOP, you must have at least one FTE employee other than owners, spouses, and family members of owners and partners.

2.  You offer coverage to all full-time employees—generally, workers averaging 30 or more hours per week

  • You don’t have to offer coverage to part-time employees—those averaging fewer than 30 hours per week—or seasonal workers.

3. You enroll at least 70 percent of the employees to whom you offer insurance

  • Employees with other health coverage aren’t counted as rejecting your offer.
  • Use the SHOP Minimum Participation Rate Calculator to see how many of your employees must accept.
  • Some states have different minimum participation requirements. See if this affects you.
  • If you don’t meet your minimum participation requirement, you can enroll between November 15-December 15 any year. During this time, the participation requirement isn’t enforced.

4. You have an office or employee work site within the state whose SHOP you want to use

Reasons to offer SHOP coverage

  • SHOP insurance gives you choice and flexibility to: 
    • Offer your employees one plan or let them choose from multiple plans.
    • Offer only health coverage, only dental coverage, or both.
    • Choose how much you pay toward your employees’ premiums and whether to offer coverage to their dependents.
    • Decide how long new employees must wait before enrolling.
  • You can get the information you need in one location. You can make an informed decision about your SHOP insurance options with the tools at HealthCare.gov where you can compare plans and prices and find out if you qualify for SHOP.
  • You can use your current SHOP-registered agent or broker or find an agent or broker in your area to help you enroll in coverage.
  • You may be able to get the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Enrolling in SHOP insurance is generally the only way for eligible small employers to take advantage of the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. You may qualify if you have fewer than 25 FTE employees making an average of about $56,000 or less. See how much your business could save. Updated IRC guidelines for small business health care tax credit and the SHOP marketplace can inform you if you are a small employer.

InsureYouKnow.org

Whether you are an employer or an employee in a small business, you may find it helpful to review SHOP coverage how-to guides, fact sheets, tools, and other resources. After making SHOP health insurance decisions, you can keep your records about the best plan for you and its costs, benefits, and features at insureyouknow.org.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Track Your Gifts on a Home Inventory

December 14, 2021

Lucky you! You’ve been nice, not naughty, so, you may be rewarded with gifts galore this holiday season. What’s on your wish list—a smart TV, a laptop computer, or a sporty new vehicle? In all the excitement of opening and enjoying your generous bounty, remember to keep track of your new acquisitions by adding them to your home inventory. If you’ve never compiled a home inventory, you can start with recent gifts and then add older possessions. You’ll also want to update your home inventory regularly and add new items or delete possessions you no longer own.

Why Should You Maintain a Home Inventory?

In the event of a burglary, fire, or another disaster, if you have an up-to-date home inventory, you’ll be able to file a detailed insurance claim quickly, settle faster, and receive compensation promptly. You also should review the current value of items you own in case you need to increase your home insurance coverage.

What Should You Include in a Home Inventory?

  • A description of each item you possess, including the make, model, and serial number
  • The estimated value of the item/replacement cost
  • Appraisal or cost at the time of purchase
  • Purchase date
  • Receipt and source of purchase
  • Photos of each item taken with your cell phone or digital camera
  • Detailed description about the item if received as a gift

How Do You Make a List?

Here are some suggestions to help you organize your list:

  • By room. Choose a room and list all the contents. For example, start in your living room and list everything, like your TV, sofa, recliner, and side tables. Remember to list even the mall stuff, like books, knickknacks, and decorations on your shelves.
  • By groups of items. Or group together items like antiques, artwork, clothes, collections, jewelry, kitchen items, furniture, musical instruments, and miscellaneous items.
  • Off-site items. Make sure you include belongings you keep in a self-storage unit covered by your homeowner’s insurance.

Although you may be faced with the daunting challenge to document all your possessions in compiling a home inventory, persevere even if you can’t get it all done immediately. It’s better to have an incomplete inventory than not to have any assets recorded.

Should You Reevaluate Your Insurance Coverage?

While you’re documenting all your possessions, look at high-value items such as jewelry, musical instruments, artwork, camera equipment, and electronics. Keep in mind that your homeowner’s insurance might put a special sublimit on certain types of items. Realize that just because you have an item on your home inventory list, doesn’t mean you will get paid for it. Check your policy’s declaration page for special limits for specific categories of merchandise. You may need to purchase an insurance rider for items such as jewelry and specialized collections.

For example, a common homeowner’s insurance policy puts a $1,500 limit on theft coverage for jewelry and watches. If you have valuable items, you can “schedule” them. Scheduled personal property is an add-on to homeowners’ or renters’ insurance to insure high-value items for their full value.

Make sure your policy covers the replacement value of your possessions, not the actual cash value. An actual cash value payment would pay you only the depreciated value of your items, not new replacements.

If you live in an area that’s prone to earthquakes or floods, you could consider earthquake insurance or flood insurance. Without them, your home and belongings won’t be covered in certain disaster situations.

InsureYouKnow.org

After you have created a detailed home inventory, you can store it at insureyouknow.org. You’ll be able to access your list of possessions and add, delete, or refine entries regularly. With a current record of your newly acquired and older possessions on file, you’ll be prepared if you need to file an insurance claim or reevaluate your insurance coverage.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Medicare Enrollment: Open Until December 7

October 28, 2021

Medicare is a national health insurance program administered by the federal government for people 65 or older. You’re first eligible to sign up for Medicare three months before you turn 65. You may be eligible to get Medicare earlier if you have a disability, End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

From October 15 through December 7 every year, depending on your circumstances, you are allowed to enroll in or switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, or to drop your plan and return to Original Medicare. View a complete list of Medicare enrollment dates.

If you qualify for Medicare coverage or know someone who may need your help to learn about Medicare, coverage options, and how to apply, keep reading for a quick course in Medicare Basics.

Medicare Basics

Medicare and Medicare-approved private insurance companies offer the following options for you to get health care coverage:

  • Part A (Hospital Insurance): Helps cover inpatient care in hospitals, skilled nursing facility care, hospice care, and home health care.
  • Part B (Medical Insurance): Helps cover:
    • Services from doctors and other health care providers
    • Outpatient care
    • Home health care
    • Durable medical equipment (like wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, and other equipment)
    • Many preventive services (like screenings, shots, or vaccines, and yearly “wellness” visits)
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage): Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide all Part A and Part B services and may provide prescription drug coverage and other supplemental benefits.
  • Part D  (Prescription Drug Coverage): Medicare-approved private insurance companies that provide outpatient prescription drug coverage.
  • Medicare Supplemental Insurance (Medigap): Extra insurance you can buy from a private company that helps pay your share of costs in Original Medicare. Policies are standardized, and in most states named by letters, like Plan G or Plan K. The benefits in each lettered plan are the same, no matter which insurance company sells it.
    • You need both Part A and Part B to buy a Medigap policy.
    • Some Medigap policies offer coverage when you travel outside the United States.
    • Generally, Medigap policies don’t cover long-term care (like care in a nursing home), vision, dental, hearing aids, private-duty nursing, or prescription drugs.
    • If you’re under 65, you might not be able to buy a Medigap policy, or you may have to pay more.
    • Medigap policies are standardized, and in most states named by letters, like Plan G or Plan K. The benefits in each lettered plan are the same, no matter which insurance company sells it.
    • Find a Medigap policy that works for you.

Medicare Options

When you first sign up for Medicare and during open enrollment periods, you can choose one of the following two ways to get your Medicare coverage.

  • Original Medicare (Includes Part A and Part B)
    • With Original Medicare, you can go to any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare, anywhere in the United States. Find providers that work with Medicare.
    • Join a separate Medicare drug plan (Part D) to get drug coverage. If you choose Original Medicare and want to add drug coverage, you can join a separate Medicare drug plan. Medicare drug coverage is optional. It’s available to everyone with Medicare.
    • If you have other insurance you also may have other coverage, like employer or union, military, or veterans’ benefits, learn how Original Medicare works with your other coverage.

Medicare Costs

Generally, you pay a monthly premium for Medicare coverage and part of the costs each time you get a covered service. There’s no yearly limit on what you pay out-of-pocket, unless you have supplemental coverage, like a Medicare Supplement Insurance. Get Medicare costs for current premium rates.

Health Insurance Assistance

Contact your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to get free personalized health insurance counseling. SHIPs aren’t connected to any insurance company or health plan.

Sign Up Process

When you’re ready, contact Social Security to sign up for Medicare coverage:

  • Apply online (at Social Security): This is the easiest and fastest way to sign up and get any financial help you may need. You’ll need to create your secure my Social Security account to sign up for Medicare or apply for Social Security benefits online.
  • Call 1-800-772-1213. TTY users can call 1-800-325-0778.
  • Contact your local Social Security office.
  • If you or your spouse worked for a railroad, call the Railroad Retirement Board at 1-877-772-5772.

Note: Medicare provides your coverage, but you’ll sign up through Social Security (or the Railroad Retirement Board) because they need to see if you’re eligible for Medicare, including whether you (or another qualifying person) paid Medicare taxes long enough to get Part A without having to pay a monthly premium. They also process requests to sign up for Part B for Medicare.

InsureYouKnow.org

After you’ve met all the requirements to apply for Medicare coverage, have made your choices, and have signed up online, keep track of your decisions and copies of your Medicare, Medigap, and Medicare Advantage Plan membership information at insureyouknow.org.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Get Ready, Get Set, Go Electric!

July 13, 2021

Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular, practical, and affordable, but they aren’t new additions to the transportation industry. The first electric car was invented in 1832 by Robert Anderson and this mode of travel became popular beginning in 1889 when William Morrison made the first successful EV in the United States. Originally, EVs could only travel up to 100 miles on a single charge and were more expensive to purchase than vehicles that relied on combustible engines.

Mass production of EVs as we now know them started in the 1990s. During the past few years, EVs have experienced a rise in popularity as battery-powered technology has progressed and costs have declined. Climate and environmental awareness have prompted support for clean transportation, increased charging opportunities, and EV adoption.

In the United States, the Biden administration has pledged to cut the pollution driving global warming by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. If you are committed to this goal that requires a radical transformation of the nation’s economy away from fossil fuels, you may want to consider the costs, insurance coverage, and benefits associated with owning an EV with zero emissions.

Costs and Incentives

Powered by a battery pack, EVs are in demand because of their quieter, simpler, and less-polluting driving experience. According to Car and Driver, “Basic electric models start at around $30,000 with luxury model prices climbing to $80,000 and more. Usually, a car buyer will pay at least $10,000 more for an electric car than they would for the same type of car in a gas model. As technology continues to evolve, this price gap is likely to close.”

Some models can travel more than 370 miles with a single charge. Installing a home charging station costs between $200 and $1,000 and allows you to charge your vehicle at home. You can find locations of public charging stations and associated fees at Plugshare.com.

You may be eligible for rebates or incentives offered by utility companies. For example, the California Clean Vehicle Rebate Project pays rebates up to $4,500 to Californians who purchase an eligible electric battery vehicle. The federal government offers tax credits up to $7,500 for purchasing certain makes and models of electric cars and SUVs.

Insurance

Electric vehicle owners may face higher insurance rates, but owning an EV becomes more affordable all the time. If you shop around, you may be able to find car insurance rates comparable to insuring conventional cars.

Follow these steps to save additional money on insuring your EV:

  • File your claims wisely. Car insurance companies may raise your rates once you file a claim. These claims stay active on your account for three years, but the rate increase varies by state.
  • Look for discounts.  Ask your current licensed insurance company if there are discounts not presently covered on your policy. Examples may include discount programs for EVs, multiple policies to insure more than one vehicle, remaining claims-free, taking a defensive driving course, using alternative fuel, or paying your premium in full.
  • Compare insurance rates.  Compare rates from several companies to make sure you’re getting the best price to insure your EV.
  • Find companies that reward you. Certain insurance companies offer discounts specifically for people who drive EVs. The amount depends on the company, but premium reductions typically are about 5 percent for a six-month policy.

Benefits

Over the past decade, the popularity of EVs has spiked. Many consumers buy them to save money at the gas station, while others want to help the environment. Some of the more appreciated reasons to switch to an EV include:

  • Energy independence
  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Lower inhaled emissions
  • Reduced maintenance expenses
  • Reduction of fuel expenses 
  • Extended battery life
  • Quieter driving experience
  • Availability of highway lanes dedicated to EVs  

InsureYouKnow.org

When you’re ready to buy an EV, your due diligence should include comparative shopping for your ideal vehicle and insurance coverage to meet your commitment to a cleaner environment and your future driving adventures. After you’ve made your decisions, keep track of your EV purchase, insurance, driving log, and maintenance expenses at InsureYouKnow.org.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Before You Turn the Key to Your New Home

March 15, 2021

Are you in the market for a new home?

Before buying a home, you’ll need a down payment, the closing costs, and, if you are getting a loan from a mortgage lender, proof of homeowners insurance to protect the mortgage lender’s investment to cover the costs to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by a fire, lightning, a tornado, theft, vandalism, or some other covered event.

When shopping for a homeowners policy, you are encouraged to get quotations from multiple insurance companies, including your current insurer from whom you may get a better deal. You should consider coverage for your house, your possessions, additional living expenses if you’re displaced, and legal concerns if a visitor is injured at your home. In this last scenario, you may be held responsible for related medical bills, legal costs, and potential court awards up to the maximum amount determined by your homeowners insurance policy.

Keep in mind, a typical homeowners policy does not include coverage for earthquakes or floods. Depending on the location of your home, your lender may require you to add riders for additional insurance coverage for natural disasters. If you have valuable possessions, including expensive jewelry, camera equipment, or a fine art collection that exceed the dollar limits of your homeowners policy, you may need to purchase extra coverage known as a Personal Articles Floater (PAF) for those items.

Provisions of a Homeowners Policy

Your homeowners insurance policy will have the following standard elements that define the costs the insurer will cover.

·      Damage to the Interior or Exterior of Your House

In the event of damage due to fire, hurricanes, lightning, vandalism, or other covered disasters, your insurer will compensate you so your house can be repaired or even completely rebuilt. As indicated above, destruction from floods or earthquakes, as well as poor home maintenance, are generally not covered and you may need separate riders if you want that type of protection. Freestanding garages, sheds or other structures on your property also may need to be covered separately using the same guidelines as for the main house. 

Clothing, furniture, appliances, and most of the other contents of your home are covered if they’re destroyed in an insured disaster.

·      Personal Liability for Damage or Injuries

Liability coverage protects you from lawsuits filed by others, including injuries experienced by visitors or caused by your pets. For example, if your dog attacks someone on or off your property, your insurer will cover medical expenses.                                                                                                   

·      Hotel or House Rental If Your Home Is Being Rebuilt or Repaired

If you need to vacate your home damaged by a covered event, a provision known as additional living expenses, will reimburse you for the rent, hotel room, restaurant meals, and other incidental costs you incur while waiting for your home to be repaired. Depending on the fine print of your policy, your expenses will be set by strict daily and total limits that you can expand if you’re willing to pay more in coverage. 

Different Types of Homeowners Insurance Coverage

There are essentially three levels of coverage.

·      Actual Cash Value

Actual cash value covers the cost of the house plus the value of your belongings after deducting depreciation (i.e., how much the items are currently worth, not how much you paid for them).

·      Replacement Cost

Replacement value policies cover the actual cash value of your home and possessions without the deduction for depreciation, so you would be able to repair or rebuild your home up to the original value.

·      Guaranteed (or extended) replacement cost/value

The most comprehensive, this inflation-buffer policy pays for whatever it costs to repair or rebuild your home—even if it’s more than your policy limit.

Comparison of Home Insurance Companies

When looking for an insurance carrier, consider the following tips.

·      Compare Statewide Costs and Insurers

When it comes to insurance, you want to make sure you are going with a provider that is legitimate and creditworthy. Your first step should be to visit your state’s Department of Insurance website to learn the rating for each home insurance company licensed to conduct business in your state, as well as any consumer complaints lodged against the insurance company. The site also should provide a typical average cost of home insurance in different counties and cities.

·      Review Each Company

Investigate home insurance companies you’re considering via their scores on the websites of the top credit agencies (such as A.M. Best, Moody’s, J.D. Power, Standard & Poor’s) and those of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Weiss Research. These sites track consumer complaints against the companies as well as general customer feedback, the processing of claims, and other data. In some instances, these websites also rate a home insurance company’s financial health to determine whether the company is able to pay out claims.

·      Look at Claims Response Data

Following a large loss, the burden of paying out-of-pocket to repair your home and waiting for reimbursement from your insurer could place you in a difficult financial position. A number of insurers are outsourcing core functions, including the handling of claims.

Before purchasing a policy, find out whether licensed adjusters or third-party call centers will be receiving and handling your claims calls. Look for a carrier with a proven track record of fair, timely settlements and make sure to understand your insurer’s stance on holdback provisions, which is when an insurance company holds back a portion of their payment until a homeowner can prove that they have started repairs.

·      Check on Current Policyholder Satisfaction

Ask any potential insurance agent for the company’s retention ratebased on the percentage of policyholders who renew each year. Many companies report retention rates between 80 percent and 90 percent. You can also find satisfaction information in annual reports, online reviews, and recommendations from friends and relatives you trust.

·      Get Multiple Quotations

Request quotations from multiple insurance companies, including any insurer with whom you already do business for insurance on your automobile, boat, or other property. As a loyal customer, you may be offered a better rate.

  • Ask about Discounts for Seniors

Some companies provide a special discount for seniors or for people who work from home. The rationale is both these groups tend to be on-premises more often—leaving their houses less prone to burglary.

InsureYouKnow.org

After you’ve selected your new home, submitted your down payment and closing costs, and arranged for homeowners insurance, keep a record of all these transactions at InsureYouKnow.org. You’ll also be able to keep annual records of your property tax fees, homeowners insurance premiums, any claims you file, and corresponding payments to cover damages or thefts of your property.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

The Long and Short of Disability Insurance

March 1, 2021

You may have never felt you needed to consider a disability insurance policy because you are young(ish), healthy, and don’t work in a business that exposes you to risky situations. Disability insurance is designed to cover a portion of your income if something happens to you like an injury or illness and you can’t work. Beginning in 2020, adverse effects of COVID-19 have been added to physical injuries, heart attacks, and cancer as major reasons to file claims for disability insurance.

COVID-19 symptoms can linger for months while the virus damages the lungs, heart, and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems. People who continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery are described as “long haulers” and the condition has been called “post-COVID-19 syndrome” or “long COVID-19.”

Older people and people with many serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms, but even young, otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.

COVID-19 can make blood cells more likely to clump and form clots. Large clots can cause heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by COVID-19 is believed to stem from very small clots that block tiny blood vessels in the heart muscle. Other parts of the body affected by blood clots include the lungs, legs, liver, and kidneys. COVID-19 also can weaken blood vessels and cause them to leak, which contributes to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.

People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often have to be treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety.

Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 will affect people over time. Researchers recommend that doctors closely monitor people who have had COVID-19 to see how their organs are functioning after initial recovery.

Many large medical centers are opening specialized clinics to provide care for people who have persistent symptoms or related illnesses after they recover from COVID-19. Most people who have COVID-19 recover quickly. But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even more important to reduce the spread of the disease by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and frequently washing your hands.

Types of Disability Insurance

If you anticipate a need for disability insurance coverage or want to provide protection just in case an unforeseen injury or illness occurs, consider the two types of disability insurance: short term and long term. Both of them are designed to replace part of your regular income if you are unable to work. Even though they basically provide the same benefits, the following are differences and similarities for you to review.

Short-Term Disability Insurance (STDI)

  • How much does it cover? About 60 to 70 percent of your salary.
  • How long does it last? Usually 3 to 6 months, depending on the policy’s fine print.
  • How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
  • How soon until you would receive your first payout? Around two weeks after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
  • Why would you get it? If your employer offers it at no cost to you.

Long-Term Disability Insurance (LTDI)

  • How much does it cover? About 40 to 70 percent of your salary.
  • How long does it last? Five years or longer if your disability continues.
  • How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
  • How soon until you would receive your first payout? Usually around 3 to 6 months after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
  • Why would you get it? If you and dependents rely on your income and you don’t have sufficient savings to replace your regular salary long term.

You may be fortunate to have an employer who offers disability income protection insurance. If not, you can elect it during open enrollment or you may want to choose additional disability insurance to supplement what your employer provides. Ideally, you would have a three-month cash reserve to cover you before your payments go into effect. If not, the short-term disability protection, which typically starts after 14 days, would pay until the long-term disability is in place. It is important to understand how your policy defines disability which may not match your definition or need. Usually, workplace policies have a narrower definition of disability than private policies do. Depending upon your occupation, through a private policy you may be able to elect more favorable terms. Your financial advisor or life insurance agent can help you to find a policy that’s right for you.

In the United States, individuals can obtain disability insurance from the government through the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for government-sponsored disability insurance, an applicant must prove that his disability is so severe that it prevents him from engaging in any type of meaningful work at all. SSA also requires applicants to demonstrate that their disability is expected to last for at least 12 months, or that it is expected to result in death.

You may find it helpful to consult an attorney when applying for a claim, regardless of your diagnosis. Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits is determined by your medical eligibility and how severely your condition affects your ability to work—an attorney can help explain the process and represent you if your case goes to court.

By contrast, some private plans only require the applicant to demonstrate that he can no longer continue in the same line of work in which he was previously engaged. If you take out your own policy, it will stay with you whenever you change jobs. But it’s cheaper if you can buy it through your employer that may offer it when you come on board, or you can talk to your HR staff about setting it up later.

STDI replaces a portion of your paycheck for a short period of time—three to six months. Most people get STDI through their employer. You can get an individual policy through some private insurers, but these plans are usually expensive. An alternative to an STDI policy is to save 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund that you can draw upon if you get sick or injured and have to take time off work for a few months.

Long-term disability insurance (LTDI) provides coverage if you’re out of work for a longer period of time—years or even decades. It, too, is sometimes offered by employers, but even if the benefit is provided, it might not be adequate. Employees often take out individual or a supplemental LTDI policy if the benefit isn’t provided by employers.

When applying for either an STDI or an LTDI policy, make sure you find out answers to the following questions from your insurer:

  • What is covered under my policy?
  • Does my disability qualify me for coverage?
  • When and how do I make a claim?
  • What do I do if a claim is denied?

Limits of Disability Insurance

Disability insurance is only designed to replace a portion of your income—it doesn’t cover extra expenses like your medical bills and long-term care costs.

According to Mason Finance, “Most disability policies come with several built-in exclusions in order to protect the insurer from claims submitted as a result of disabilities sustained from what it considers to be ‘high-risk’ activities, such as skydiving, mountain climbing, flying in experimental aircraft, or other such activities. Your insurer may also exclude any preexisting conditions that you have when you apply for coverage.”

While pregnancy isn’t usually covered by long-term policies, complications that extend beyond pregnancy, for example, if your doctor orders you to refrain from working to recuperate from a C-section, you might qualify for benefits—but only if you had a long-term policy in place before you got pregnant. 

Short-term policies do cover birth as a disability, but you might be waiting a long six-to-eight weeks for your first payout. 

InsureYouKnow.org

If you decide to apply for disability insurance, you can track your policy, payments, and any claims you submit at InsureYouKnow.org.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Driving (or Not) with Auto Insurance

February 15, 2021

Although you may not be driving as much during the COVID-19 pandemic as you did in previous years, you still need to have auto insurance if you own a vehicle. The following tips may help you establish or review your auto insurance policy as you dream about taking road trips while your motionless car is parked in your driveway.

Visit Your Auto Insurer Online

Before the pandemic, you may have felt comfortable visiting your auto insurer’s office to apply for or review your auto insurance policy, or to file a claim for a car accident, vandalism, car theft, hail, fire, floods, falling objects, and collisions with animals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, claims are processed virtually. You can use your insurer’s mobile app or website and go through the entire claims process from the comfort of your own home.

In the event of an accident, you may be able to upload photos of your car’s damage that your insurer can use to estimate a repair and then send you a payment quickly.

Get Insurance Before You Buy a Car

Shop for car insurance before you buy a car so you can drive your new car off the dealer’s lot. There are four basic kinds of car insurance coverage: property damage liability, bodily injury liability, collision, and comprehensive. Review each one of these types of coverages carefully and decide which ones fit your needs. You might also want to consider getting protection in the event of an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

You’re going to need proof of insurance when you buy a car before you can take it home with you. Follow these steps to get insurance:

  • Have a make, model, and year in mind. In the process of car shopping, you’ve most likely identified the types of cars you’re interested in buying. An insurance agent can give you quotations for a few models, so you can budget accordingly.
  • Compare quotations from multiple car insurance companies. An independent insurance agent or online car insurance comparison site is an efficient way to price shop. Rates vary considerably among insurers, so you will want more than one or two quotations.
  • Understand what coverage types you’ll need. Most states require you to carry car liability insurance. Also, if you’re taking out a car loan or lease, your lender or leasing agent will most likely require collision and comprehensive insurance.
  • Ask your insurance agent to set up a policy. If you have the car picked out and know the vehicle identification number (VIN), you can have your policy ready to go before you arrive at the dealership. If you don’t have the VIN yet, ask if the agent can set up a policy with the information you have, like the drivers in your household and the address where you’ll keep the vehicle. Once you decide on the car, call the agent with the VIN to complete the purchase of the car insurance policy.
  • Ask about bundling. Some insurance companies offer discounts to protect all your property with one insurer. Multiple-policy discounts can apply to combinations of home, auto, and life, and even motorcycle insurance.

Look into Pay-Per-Mile Insurance

If the pandemic has drastically altered your driving behavior since you aren’t commuting to work or going on road trips, you might want to look into an alternative car insurance model like pay-per-mile insurance.

In this plan, you’ll get charged a base rate per month plus a per-mile rate. Your monthly bill will depend on how much you drive. For example, if you drive 600 miles in a month at a $29 base rate and a $0.05 per-mile rate, your bill for that month would be $59. But, if you do return to commuting to your office you could end up paying more per month than with a traditional car insurance policy.

Reconsider Dropping Optional Coverage

If you have an older car and you’re considering dropping collision and comprehensive insurance to save on your insurance policy, Forbes Advisor recommends that you reconsider. Dropping coverage could leave you with a significant coverage gap. But you don’t have to drop both. It may be better financially to drop collision insurance but keep comprehensive insurance, which pays for repairs, such as ones caused by hail or falling tree branches that don’t involve your own driving.

Check on Auto Policy for Delivery Job

If you’ve taken on a delivery job and use your car for deliveries from a restaurant, grocery store, or other business, check with your car insurer to see if you need a commercial auto policy. If you’re involved in an accident while working, your personal auto policy may not cover your claim and you could be held responsible for repair bills and medical expenses.

Cover Your Teenage Driver

If you have a teen who’s driving, you’re going to pay a premium rate for his car insurance. Adding an inexperienced teen driver to your insurance will add an average of about $1,700 annually to your car insurance bill, based on Forbes Advisor’s research.

But there are ways to reduce anxiety about teen driving. By being a good driver role model, you can spend time driving with your teen and instill safe driving habits, including not using a phone while driving. If your teenager keeps accidents and violations off his driving record, the result will be substantially cheaper rates.

Protect Senior Driver’s Rates

If you are a senior driver with a perfect driving record, with no accidents or claims, you might wonder why your car insurance rates have increased. You might be in excellent health for someone your age and you might feel that your insurer is discriminating based on how old you are. However, insurance companies are legally allowed to charge any premium they want based on your driving record or age. Even if your reflexes are sharper than many other drivers of your age or drivers who are younger, your insurer will place you in the senior driver’s category along with other senior drivers whose reflexes are not as sharp as yours.

The following methods can help senior drivers save money on car insurance:

  • Change your driving status. If you are retired, then changing your driving status to pleasure or leisure can help you save money. This status covers all of your daily routines that are non-work related. Drivers who are placed in this category will be seen as a lower-risk by their insurers and they will pay less on their insurance rates.
  • Ask for a senior discount. Many insurance companies offer a discount to seniors who take a defensive driving course. These courses are not expensive and you can can stream them online at home. They can help you refresh your driving skills and knowledge and teach you how age-related diseases and medication can affect driving.
  • Drop a driver from your policy. There are some states where not all the licensed drivers from a household are required to have car insurance. In order to reduce your policy rates, you can exclude anyone from your policy who no longer drives. Usually, those persons are older spouses or parents. Also, you can change the primary driver from your policy to someone from the household who is younger, but only if that person is the one who is driving the most.
  • Improve your car’s safety. Another method used by drivers of any age to save on car insurance is to install safety devices on the vehicle. You can lower your premiums if you install safety systems like rearview cameras, lane drift, parking assist, and collision warning systems.
  • Shop around. Maybe the best option you can have to lower your insurance rates is to shop around and compare different car insurance quotations. Insurance companies have different premiums for different groups of people. Compare insurance quotations to find an insurance rate and coverage to your advantage.

InsureYouKnow.org

At InsureYouKnow.org, file copies of your proof of insurance, policy documents, and any car insurance claims or correspondence you file with your auto insurance carrier.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Winterize Your Home

November 29, 2020

According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Winter storms caused $2.1 billion in insured losses in 2019.” By heeding the following suggestions now to winterize your home, you may avoid costly and time-consuming remedies later, enjoy a safe and warm winter, and conserve energy consumption while saving on your electric bill.

Protect Your Pipes

  • Drain your outside hose spigots if you live where pipes can freeze. Insulate pipes that could be susceptible to freezing. When freezing temperatures are forecasted, keep a stream of water running in a few faucets to prevent freezing and bursting.
  • Drain garden hoses and store them inside. Also shut off outdoor water valves and insulate faucets in cold weather. Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand, breaking the pipes.
  • Consider installing an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This measure will protect against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can prevent them from bursting. Act now to learn how to shut off the water and know where your pipes are located before an emergency.
  • By insulating your hot-water pipes, you’ll reduce heat loss and save energy and money. Insulation will help keep water hot inside pipes, so your water heater won’t have to work so hard. Also, you won’t have to waste as much time or water waiting for hot water to flow out of the faucet or showerhead.
  • If you vacate your house for an extended period this winter, turn the water off completely and consider draining the plumbing system to keep pipes from freezing. Also, have a friend or neighbor check on your home regularly to look for any issues and let you know if a problem is detected.

Weatherproof Your Home

  • Weatherstripping or installing storm doors and windows will prevent cold air from entering your home or heat from escaping it, which will reduce your power bills.
  • Check your fireplace for animal nests or creosote buildup that can be hazardous. Have an annual inspection before building your first fire of the season. Also, soot and other debris build up in the chimney. Call a chimney sweep to thoroughly clean the chimney before your first winter use. You should also vacuum or sweep out any accumulated ash from the firebox.
  • Caulk around windows and use foam outlet protectors to prevent cold air from entering your home. However, the majority of heat loss typically occurs via openings in the attic. Check to make sure that you have sufficient insulation.
  • Adjust your thermostat. The U.S. Department of Energy reports you can save as much as 1 percent on your energy bill for every degree you lower your home’s temperature during the winter. Set your thermostat for at least 65 degrees and make sure your home is well-insulated.
  •  Install a programmable thermostat and save money by keeping the temperature adjusted when you’re not at home.
  • Place draft guards by doors in drafty rooms to prevent heat loss.
  • To help keep chilly air from leaking in through window cracks, use thermal lined curtains. They’ll help keep your home warm and lower your heating bill. For windows that don’t get direct sunlight, keep curtains closed to keep out cold air and to keep in warm air.
  • Install window insulation film that can keep up to 70 percent of heat from leaking out of the windows.
  • For maximum heat retention, pack fiberglass insulation around basement doors, windows in unused rooms, attic floors, and window air conditioning units.
  • Fill with caulk any remaining gaps in siding, windows, or doors. For extra drafty windows and doors, caulk the inside too, pulling off moldings to fill all gaps in the insulation. 

Protect Your Plants and Outdoor Equipment

  • Bring plants and flowering trees inside before the first cold snap. Typically, you should bring your plants in before temperatures dip below 45 degrees.
  • Cold temperatures, snow, and ice can damage outdoor furniture and grills. If possible, store them in the garage or basement. If you have a gas grill with a propane tank, close the tank valve and disconnect the tank first. It must be stored outside. If you don’t have storage space for your items, purchase covers to protect them from the elements. You also need to maintain your grill and cover it before putting it away for the season.
  • Clean and maintain outdoor power tools such as mowers and string trimmers prior to storing. If you have a snow blower, inspect it before the first snowfall.
  • Examine your pool cover for damage and replace it if needed.
  • Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.
  • Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.
  • Keep driveways and sidewalks clear of ice and snow and repair any faulty steps and handrails.

Save on Your Energy Bills

  • Call your local power company to see if energy saving assessments are offered. It’s often a free service where a representative will identify specific changes to make your home more energy efficient and save you money. LED light bulbs and water heater blankets can also make a difference.

Service Your HVAC System

  • Your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system will function more efficiently with a clean filter. A dirty filter with trapped lint, pollen and dust obstructs airflow and makes your HVAC system run longer to heat your home. You may need to replace filters at least every three months.
  • Adjust your ceiling fans to move in a clockwise direction so they push hot air along the ceiling towards the floor. 

Check Your Roof and Gutters

  • Inspect your roof. Look for broken, frayed, curled or missing shingles; clogged valleys; damaged flashing; or deterioration.
  • Clear leaves, pine needles, dirt, and other accumulated debris from the roof.
  • Cut back overhanging branches to prevent damage to shingles and gutters.
  • To prevent clogging, inspect and clean the gutters of leaves and other debris. Having clean gutters will also allow melting snow to drain properly.
  • Install snow guards.
  • Check the attic and ceilings for staining from water leakage. While you’re up there, make sure the attic is properly ventilated to prevent mold and mildew.
  • If you live in an area that is prone to snow, keep a snow roof rake handy.
  • Make sure that water can flow freely through your gutters now to help prevent icicles and ice dams from forming later. 

Flush Your Water Heater

  • Particles and sediment can collect over time in the bottom of your water heater, hindering the unit’s efficiency. Flush the water through the drain valve to clear out the material and keep your heater functioning at its best. 

Test Your Detectors

  • Residential fires are more common in winter, so it is important that all of your smoke detectors work. Check them monthly and replace batteries as needed. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector to avoid inadvertently trapping this toxic gas in your home.

Most homeowners insurance policies cover damages due to extreme winter weather, but make sure you speak with your independent agent to answer any questions you have about your specific homeowners, condo, or renters insurance policy. Keep a record of all your winterizing activities and your insurance policies at InsureYouKnow.org. You’ll then be prepared to take on weather-related challenges that come blowing your way this winter.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years

Ensure Your Health Care Coverage

November 15, 2020

Changing your calendar to the month of November signals the need to review your health insurance coverage for the coming year. If you don’t have health insurance coverage through an employer, you’ll need to buy it yourself if you want coverage in 2021.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as Obamacare), enacted in March 2010, called for the creation of a health insurance exchange in each state, with three primary goals:

  • Make affordable health insurance available to more people. The law provides consumers with subsidies (“premium tax credits”) that lower costs for households with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Expand the Medicaid program to cover all adults with income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Support innovative medical care delivery methods designed to lower the costs of health care in general.

In the article, “Insurance Coverage after Job Loss—The Importance of the ACA during the Covid-Associated Recession,” published on October 22 in The New England Journal of Medicine, the authors state, “The ACA, having created several new options for health insurance unrelated to employment, will protect many recently unemployed people and their families from losing coverage.” The article also emphasizes, “The very virus that has brought about record unemployment levels is the same agent that makes health insurance—and the new options created under the ACA—more important than ever.

Open Enrollment for 2021

In every state, open enrollment for ACA-compliant 2021 health coverage for individuals and families started on November 1 and, in most states, will end on December 15, 2020. This deadline applies to the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov and it also may apply in some of the states that run their own exchanges.

You can enroll for a health insurance plan online, over the phone, or in-person. When you enroll in a plan through the exchange, you need to have the following information on hand for each enrollee:

  • Name, address, email address, Social Security number, birthdate, and citizenship status.
  • Household size and income if you’re planning to apply for premium subsidies or cost-sharing reductions. A wide range of documentation can be used to prove your income, including pay stubs, W2s, or your most recent tax return.
  • Coverage details and premium for any employer-sponsored plan that’s available to your household (regardless of whether you’re enrolled in that plan or have declined it).
  • Payment information that the insurer will be able to use to charge your premiums.
  • Your doctors’ names and zip codes, so that you can check to make sure they’re in-network with the health plans you’re considering.
  • A list of medications taken by anyone who will be covered under the policy. Each insurance plan has its own formulary so you’ll want to check to see which one will best cover the medications you need.
  • If you want to enroll in a catastrophic plan and you’re 30 years old or older, you’ll need a hardship exemption (note that premium subsidies cannot be used with catastrophic plans, so these are generally only a good idea if you don’t qualify for a premium subsidy, but can meet the requirements for a hardship exemption).

Coverage Effective January 1

In almost all cases, your coverage will take effect on January 1, 2021 if you sign up during the open enrollment window in the fall of 2020. If you’re already enrolled in an individual-market plan and you’re picking a different plan during open enrollment, your current plan will end on December 31 and your new plan will take effect seamlessly on January 1 if you continue to pay your premiums.

December Deadline Limitations

If you don’t enroll in an ACA-compliant health insurance plan by the end of open enrollment on December 15 in most states, your buying options may be limited for the coming year. Open enrollment won’t come around again until November 2021, with coverage effective January 1, 2022. Exceptions include:

  • Medicaid and CHIP enrollment are available year-round for those who qualify. If your income drops to a Medicaid-eligible level later in the year, you’ll be able to enroll at that point. Similarly, if you’re on Medicaid and your income increases to a level that makes you ineligible for Medicaid, you’ll have an opportunity to switch to a private plan at that point, with the loss of your Medicaid plan serving as the qualifying event that triggers a special enrollment period.
  • Native Americans can enroll year-round in in plans through special provisions in the ACA that apply to Native Americans.
  • If you have a qualifying event during the year, you’ll have access to a special enrollment period. Qualifying events include marriage (if at least one spouse already had coverage prior to the marriage), the birth or adoption of a child, loss of other minimum essential coverage, or a permanent move to a new geographical area where the available health plans are different from what was available in your prior location (if you already had coverage prior to your move).     

You can access a guide to all of the qualifying events that trigger special enrollment periods in the individual market including details about the specific rules that apply to each of them.

No Federal Penalty but Some States Levy Tax Penalties

There is no federal government penalty for being uninsured in 2021 but four states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island) and Washington, DC, impose tax penalties for not having health insurance.

For More Information About ACA-Healthcare Coverage

Follow these steps:

  • Get a quotation at healthinsurance.org. 
  • ‘Window shop’ anonymously on your state exchange (if you’re in Washington, DC, or one of the 14 states that run their own exchanges) or HealthCare.gov’s plan browsing page if you’re in one of the other 36 states.
  • Consult with a trained advisor by setting up an appointment with a navigator or broker in your area who will be able to help you sort through the available options and figure out which one will best meet your needs.
  • Talk with your health care providers if you’re considering a policy change during open enrollment. You’ll want to know which provider networks include your doctors, and whether any network changes are planned for the coming year.

Auto-Renewal for Existing ACA-Compliant Health Plan

If you’re already enrolled in an ACA-compliant health plan through your state’s marketplace, you can probably let your plan automatically renew for 2021. Auto-renewal is an option for nearly all exchange enrollees, although Pennsylvania and New Jersey have transitioned away from HealthCare.gov and are using their own new enrollment platforms instead. Residents in those states need to pay close attention to notifications they receive from the marketplace with instructions on how to renew coverage or select a new plan for 2021.

But, relying on auto-renewal for ACA-compliant insurance coverage may not be in your best interest. No matter how much you like your current plan, it pays to shop around during open enrollment and see if a plan change is worth your while because:

  • In most states, you won’t be able to pick a new plan after your coverage is auto-renewed. 
  • Your subsidy amount will generally change from one year to the next. If your subsidy gets smaller, auto-renewal could result in higher premiums next year. 
  • If you receive a subsidy, auto-renewal could be risky even if the subsidy amount isn’t declining. This FAQ explains details that you may encounter if you let your individual health insurance plan automatically renew.
  • If your plan is being discontinued, auto-renewal will result in the exchange or your insurer picking a new plan for you. 
  • Auto-renewal might result in a missed opportunity for a better value. 

You might still decide that renewing your current plan is the best option for 2021. But, it’s definitely better to actively make that decision rather than letting your plan auto-renew without considering other available options.

After you have squared away your health care coverage for 2021, you can record all the decisions you make, enrollment forms you submit, and confirmations you receive at InsureYouKnow.org. By doing that, you’ll be able to review your health insurance coverage commitments in November 2021 in preparation for 2022.

Sign up

Individual     Insurance Agent

Select Plan
$14.95 Annual    $26.95 Three Years