Every January, Missourians pledge to “exercise more” or “lose weight” in 2004, but their New Year’s resolutions usually doesn’t include “get smarter about insurance.” Maybe they should.
A recent national survey reportedly found only 33 percent of Americans said they understand the details of their policies “very well” even though insurance protects their most valuable resources – like homes, autos and health care.
“In Missouri, for example, average premiums have risen more than 67 percent for HMO plans in the past five years and 46 percent for homeowners coverage just since 2001,” said Scott Lakin, director of the Missouri Department of Insurance (MDI).
“Especially in recent tough economic times, smart consumers are looking for true value – the best price and service that meets your family’s most pressing insurance needs.”
Lakin is encouraging consumers to beef up their knowledge about coverage during national Get Smart About Insurance Week Jan. 19 to 23, which is jointly sponsored with all other state insurance departments. He’s urging Missourians to:
Join the 3 million annual visitors to MDI’s Web site at “http://www.insurance.mo.gov/”>www.insurance.mo.gov, which provides up-to-date consumer information when buying health, auto, home, or other insurance coverage.
Schedule a routine “check-up” with a local insurance agent at least once a year. Particularly for homeowners coverage, consumers should inquire about savings by opting for higher deductibles.
Take advantage of the MDI Web site, when necessary, to seek help with improper claims handling and policy sales. Missourians also can call 1-800-726-7390 toll free to ask questions or begin the official complaint process. In 2003, preliminary figures show MDI investigated 5,994 official complaints about insurers or agents and recovered $13.2 million for consumers.
Missouri residents should reportedly shop around for identical products and services. Missouri does not regulate rates for virtually any line of insurance and relies on competition to keep prices low. But MDI’s Web site, including a special homeowners shopping center, and brochures have information on comparative premium information and special discounts that reportedly sometimes are overlooked.
“We hope Get Smart Week helps create better-educated consumers,” Lakin said. “MDI is here to give consumers impartial insurance information to make informed choices on protecting their families wisely at the best prices available.” National survey finds room for improvement
To gauge Americans’ understanding and perceptions of their insurance coverage, the Kansas City-based National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) – composed of all state insurance directors like Lakin – commissioned a followup telephone survey of 1,009 adult consumers in 2003.
Respondents who thought they had the right amount of coverage increased over the previous year from 67 to 72 percent. However, only one-third of consumers said they understand the details of their coverage “very well,” or the same level as the year before.
“This information shows that many Americans may have a false sense of security when it comes to their insurance coverage,” Lakin commented.
The youngest adults, ages 18 to 24, are least likely understand their policy details very well (20 percent). to help this age group, and even younger missourians, mdi Web site has added a special area for “teens” get basic insurance education.
“Young adults particularly need education about the essentials of insurance coverage, as they begin setting up households and families,” Lakin said.
Understanding of insurance issues increases with age. Almost half of the survey participants 65 and older say they know their insurance details very well (45 percent), although they face more questions in making decisions about such areas as health coverage.
“State government in Missouri has a strong commitment to the requirements of seniors, who often need one-on-one health insurance counseling,” Lakin said. MDI contracts with the CLAIM program, which makes free Medicare, Medigap and long-term care insurance counseling available to Missouri seniors. Seniors have access to special services on the MDI Web site, or they can contact the CLAIM program directly at 1-800-390-3330.
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