California’s Fire Insurance Program Faces Challenges and Changes in 2022

As this year’s wildfire season gets underway, homeowners across the fire-prone state of California are bracing for what could be another tumultuous year. Currently, an estimated 198,797 acres have already been burned and 503 structures have been damaged or destroyed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.*

Unfortunately, the growing number of wildfires has made it difficult for homeowners in California to secure affordable fire insurance coverage as more carriers pull out of the state. This, and the fact that many homeowners are being denied coverage after a loss, has triggered policyholders, consumer advocates and public officials to take action.

Seeing this as a growing issue of concern, last fall Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara ordered insurance companies to preserve residential insurance coverage for the more than 325,000 policyholders who have been affected by devastating Northern California wildfires. Lara also issued several moratoriums aimed at preventing insurance carriers from issuing cancellations and non-renewals to wildfire survivors.

California’s FAIR Plan under fire

As an insurance professional, you are already familiar with the California FAIR Plan. The plan, often referred to as “the insurer of last resort,” was established so that all California homeowners with high-risk properties have access to basic fire insurance when coverage in the traditional market is unavailable through no fault of the property owner. Today there are approximately 200,000 homeowners in California who have the FAIR Plan for their fire insurance coverage.

Recently, the FAIR Plan has been subject to growing scrutiny by policyholders filing lawsuits against the insurance program. A recent example is the case of Sarah Mapel vs California FAIR Plan Association. In this lawsuit, the plan was accused of wrongly denying a wildfire claim that caused extensive smoke damage to over $200,000 worth of the plaintiff’s personal property inside her home. According to Mapel, when responding to her claim, “[The California FAIR Plan] sent me a check for $1,100 to buy some HEPA filters and told me to Swiffer my house.” According to how the FAIR Plan was written, Mapel apparently had no coverage under her policy as there was no physical change to her home as a result of the wildfire.

Two reports released last month address two ongoing issues of concern regarding the plan. The first issue relates to the Mapel lawsuit wherein the state has accused the plan of misleading homeowners about the details of their policies involving smoke damage. In fact, consumer advocates say that even today the FAIR Plan continues to deny fire smoke claims, despite the demands for coverage by the California Department of Insurance early last year. The second issue involves the lack of transparency and accountability problems, including steps to improve the handling of claims, among other accusations.  

“I’ve heard from business owners and homeowners alike in wildfire-affected areas that need to purchase FAIR Plan policies and yet cannot get the FAIR Plan [office] to even answer their calls,” said Lara.

Possible solutions and changes

Last month, the California Department of Insurance held an investigatory hearing in Oakland to explore concerns about the plan and possible improvements, including asking the plan managers to find ways to bring down the cost of coverage for homeowners.

“Families across our state are already struggling under the exorbitant cost of housing,” said Wendy Thomas, a county supervisor in El Dorado County. “And seniors on fixed incomes are finding it nearly impossible to have adequate insurance that they can actually afford. The alternative is to underinsure your property and pray you never use [your policy].” (Source: The Mercury News.)

As for smoke damage and the plan, 20 private insurers have since deleted what the California Department of Insurance officials refer to as illegal smoke policy provisions, leading to over $166 million being returned to consumers in 2021.

Other recent changes include expanding the FAIR Plan to offer a homeowners policy along with its original dwelling fire coverage, and giving policyholders more coverage, such as loss of use and water damage, making it easier and less expensive to secure the coverages needed to fully protect their homes. Other changes include increasing commercial property program and business owners program coverage limits and expanding coverage under the plan to include commercial entities such as wineries and farms.

Conclusion

Today, California Department of Insurance officials indicate that they are committed to working with the California FAIR Plan administration to help improve the program for homeowners across the state as the threat of wildfires grows.

About FastrackCE
The summer is going by quickly! If you need to complete your continuing education credits before the end of the summer, FastrackCE can help. At FastrackCE, we make it easy for insurance professionals to maintain CE licensing requirements conveniently online — including life and health, long-term care and annuity training/certification. For information, call 800-544-3605 or visit fastrackce.com.

*As of 8/20/22.

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Life Insurance Awareness Month 2022: A Great Time to Increase Your Life Insurance Sales!

Every September, the nonprofit organization Life Happens sponsors Life Insurance Awareness Month (LIAM), a month-long campaign dedicated to helping consumers take personal financial responsibility through the ownership of life insurance and related products.

As a life insurance agent, you can view LIAM as the perfect time to take full advantage of the resources provided by Life Happens to spread the important message about life insurance to your existing clients, as well as launch marketing campaigns aimed at new prospects. With less than a month until LIAM begins, now is the time to get started.

Why participate in LIAM?

If you have ever had to put together a marketing campaign from scratch, you already know what is involved in the process. The great thing about LIAM is that the folks at Life Happens have done all the heavy lifting for you!

Begin by going to the Life Happens website. You can get started for free, but there are options for a paid account that offers some additional features. The website will walk you through some steps that will allow you to leverage the multitude of marketing content and resources to help you maximize your life insurance sales and marketing efforts.

Helping you dispel misunderstandings about life insurance

As a life insurance agent, you’ve likely heard all the excuses regarding why someone doesn’t have a life insurance policy. Life Happens knows this, and the organization has made it its mission to dispel some of the misunderstandings related to life insurance through thoughtful marketing campaigns that address some of the main reasons why people put off buying a life policy, such as:

  • Life insurance is just too expensive
  • I have a life policy through work
  • I don’t have children or a house
  • I’m young and healthy
  • I have other financial priorities
  • I’ve got health issues and won’t qualify for coverage
  • I don’t know how much or what type of policy to buy

According to LIMRA’s 2022 Insurance Barometer Study, improving knowledge about life insurance could help improve life insurance ownership rates. The study found that 62% of consumers who said they feel very/extremely knowledgeable about life insurance own a life insurance policy, and just 17% of consumers who said they don’t feel knowledgeable about life insurance actually have coverage.

Your takeaway after reading this list should be that if you want to sell life insurance, you’ll need to be able to confidently address each excuse for not buying a policy with your clients/prospects. The fact is that most people just don’t have all the information they need to make a decision about a life insurance purchase. That’s what makes building and launching a life marketing campaign in September so ideal.

As a nationwide public awareness campaign, LIAM is about educating consumers about life insurance. Through social media and other marketing channels, content can be shared with prospects, including real-life case studies and informational fact sheets that can be distributed now, in the weeks leading to LIAM.

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About FastrackCE
The summer is going by quickly! If you need to complete your continuing education credits before the end of the summer, FastrackCE can help. At FastrackCE, we make it easy for insurance professionals to maintain CE licensing requirements conveniently online — including life and health, long-term care and annuity training/certification. For information, call 800-544-3605 or visit fastrackce.com.

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Swimming Pools and Insurance: 3 Things Your Homeowner Clients Need to Know

Of the 128.58 million households in the U.S., 10.4 million homeowners have a swimming pool. And while most homeowners insurance policies will cover pool-related claims and liabilities, there are exceptions.

Whether your clients already have a pool or are considering adding one, it is important to address the following key issues to ensure that they understand how their pool is covered as well as what is and isn’t covered under their homeowners insurance policy.

Increased liability. A homeowners insurance policy provides coverage for personal liability should someone become injured on a homeowner’s property. However, having a swimming pool increases this risk exposure. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the minimum liability for most homeowners policies is $100,000. For insureds with a swimming pool, this limit is often considered too low. Explain to your homeowner clients that due to the increased liability exposure, it might be best to increase their liability limits to $300,000 or even $500,000. 

Tip! This can be a good opportunity for cross-selling an umbrella policy with its excess liability coverage.

Pool classification. Typically, in-ground swimming pools are classified as “other structures” under the dwelling coverage of most homeowners insurance policies. This means, damage to a swimming pool from covered incidents such as storms or fires will be covered up to the policy’s other structures limits. However, other structures coverage is typically just 10% of the dwelling coverage, so it is important to make sure that this is enough to cover damages in the event of a covered loss. It is important to note that some insurance companies may also provide coverage for an in-ground pool up to the limits of a homeowners policy’s dwelling coverage.

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Above ground pools, since they are considered portable, are typically classified as personal property by most insurance companies. Therefore, any damage to an aboveground pool will be covered under the policy’s personal property section and up to the limit of the insurance contract. However, there are some insurance companies that consider permanently installed aboveground pools as an “other structure” under the homeowners policy. 

Tip! Pool classification will vary among carriers. Discuss with your homeowner clients the type of pool they own and determine how to best cover the risk based on how it is classified under a policy. 

What isn’t covered. While coverage will differ among carriers, most homeowners policies will not cover certain claim losses associated with pool damage, such as:[1]

  • Lack of winterization. Areas of the country where freezing temperatures are a common occurrence will require that homeowners properly winterize their pool. Failure to do so can cause damage to the pool’s structure and will not be considered a covered loss.
  • General wear and tear. Pool ownership means having to replace a worn-out pool liner, replacing pump parts or proactively repairing surface or structural cracks. These issues are things that can happen over time and are expenses that are not covered under a homeowners insurance policy.
  • Maintenance issues. Pools require constant maintenance. Failing to keep filters free from debris can damage pumps and lack of regular cleaning can damage liners. Losses that are determined to be caused by a lack of maintenance typically won’t be covered under a homeowners policy. 
  • Flooding. Damage to a pool caused by a flood is excluded from a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you have clients who want coverage for flooding to protect their home and pool, you may want to provide a quote for flood insurance.

When talking with your homeowner clients, be sure to discuss issues concerning swimming pools. You might also want to put together an article on pool insurance and/or pool safety. They’ll be sure to appreciate the information — especially in the event of a claim situation. 

About FastrackCE
The summer is going by fast! If you need to complete your continuing education credits before the end of the summer, FastrackCE can help. At FastrackCE, we make it easy for insurance professionals to maintain CE licensing requirements conveniently online. For information, call 800-544-3605 or visit fastrackce.com.


[1] Progressive Insurance.

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Insuring Electric Vehicles: Addressing the Cost of Coverage With Your Clients

The sticker price of electric vehicles (EVs) may have put off consumers in the past, but with prices coming down, manufacturer incentives and potential EV tax credits, more Americans are looking into purchasing an EV. In fact, a recent poll shows that 51% of U.S. adults surveyed said they are strongly considering purchasing an EV in the next few years.

However, while most consumers understand that they will be paying higher upfront costs for an EV, they may not be aware of just how their new vehicle will impact the cost and coverage of their auto insurance. As an insurance agent, you should be prepared to address EV insurance premium-related questions from your policyholders as they make the switch to more environmentally friendly transportation. To help, we’ve put together the most frequently asked insurance premium questions you’ll likely receive from your insureds regarding EVs.

Will insurance for my EV cost more compared with a gas vehicle? While auto insurance coverage for an EV is similar to coverage for a traditional vehicle, an EV will cost more to insure — roughly $442 more per year. Why? Because typically, the higher-priced a vehicle is, the more expensive it is to insure — simply because it will cost more to repair and replace in the event of an accident. According to Progressive Insurance, while EVs have fewer moving parts than conventional automobiles do, the parts can be expensive. In addition, if the battery pack becomes damaged, specific safety protocols must be followed that can also increase the cost of labor and repairs. 

“While EVs are [not] the cheapest cars to insure, as they become more commonplace and the availability of parts and qualified repair shops grows, the cost to fix them should go down, as should insurance rates.”
Source: Progressive Insurance.

Are there ways to help reduce the cost of insurance for my EV? Many insurance carriers can apply the same discounts that apply to gas-powered vehicles to EVs, such as multi-policy and claims-free discounts. When submitting applications, be sure to inform carriers about any EV safety technology a vehicle may have, such as collision-avoidance and automatic braking, as these can also result in additional discounts.

Today, Oregon remains the cheapest state to own an EV at an average annual cost of $2,474, while Michigan is the most expensive with an average annual cost of $5,076.
Source: Self Financial, Inc.

Are there special insurance coverage requirements for an EV that could increase my rates? There are no special insurance requirements for EVs. When quoting a policy, carriers will use the same underwriting guidelines for an EV as they would for a gas-powered car.

According to Kelley Blue Book, consumers can be under the impression that they’ll need additional coverage on their home insurance if they maintain a high-voltage charger in their garage or carport, or anywhere else. While securing additional coverage on a homeowners policy isn’t necessary, some carriers may require a photograph or other type of documentation to demonstrate that the home-charging unit has been properly and professionally installed.

Conclusion

The cost of auto insurance has always been and continues to be a contentious topic, with consumers wanting to pay as little as possible for their coverage. As you see more requests for quotes on EV insurance cross your desk, premiums will be one of the top issues of concern for policyholders, and they’ll be looking to you for answers. With the various levels of insurance coverage and available discounts, you can help your insureds determine the best coverage at the most affordable price.

About FastrackCE
Do you need to complete your continuing education credits this summer? At FastrackCE, we make it easy for insurance professionals to maintain CE licensing requirements by affording access to convenient online continuing education courses. For information, call 800-544-3605 or visit fastrackce.com.

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6 Benefits Trends That Can Help Small Businesses Fill the Labor Shortage Gap

Last year, U.S. businesses added an unprecedented 3.8 million jobs. But however positive that may sound, workforce participation remains low with 2.8 million fewer Americans working today compared with February of 2020, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the ongoing labor shortage has been especially challenging as companies struggle to attract and retain qualified workers. Today, most experts agree that the ability to offer meaningful benefits is one of the surest ways to improve employee satisfaction and increase retention. But with so many types of benefits available, and with most SMBs operating with a limited budget, how do employers know what benefits to offer workers? 

As an insurance professional, you can help your business owner clients better understand what benefits trends can better serve their company and how to take advantage of the various options available. According to the website People Keep, the best employee benefits for attracting employees and increasing worker satisfaction fall into six main categories: wellness perks, group health insurance, health reimbursement arrangements, remote/hybrid work, and retirement and educational benefits.

Wellness perks. These types of benefits allow an employer to be creative in choosing the wellness initiatives they think their employees would like. Some examples can include gym memberships, healthy meal kit subscriptions, or even a reimbursement program for health and wellness services such as eye exams, glasses and annual checkups.

Group health insurance. A group health plan is one of the most sought-after benefits for employees. And while a group health insurance plan can be a big expense for a small operation, the business can deduct the cost of insurance to help reduce its taxable income.

Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). HRAs may not be a new trend, but they are fast becoming a very popular choice in helping today’s SMBs create a self-insurance plan for their employees. Acting as an employer-funded group health plan, an HRA reimburses employees for medical expenses up to a certain dollar amount. Employers fund and own the accounts, giving them the ability to keep all savings and any unused funds. HRAs can help employers customize a benefit plan that fits their needs and budgets.

Remote/hybrid work. Giving employees the ability to work remotely (full or part-time) has become an important trend in benefits that isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, workers are going out of their way to find employers that offer more workplace flexibility. The benefits are clear: no transit fees or gas costs, no traffic, the ability to work comfortably from home, etc. By eliminating these and other factors, employees have been shown to be more productive, happy and dedicated to their job and employer. Today, 66% of employees surveyed said they want a more flexible work schedule, with just 47% of employers providing them.

Retirement benefits. Improving retirement benefits is another trend that has been shown to attract and retain qualified workers. For example, some businesses are electing to increase their 401(k) match percentages, while others are adding profit-sharing options so employees can share in the company’s success. According to People Keep, employees who work for a company that doesn’t offer a 401(k)-match retirement plan are less likely to stay with that company until retirement.

Educational benefits. Reimbursement programs and paid job training have been shown to produce the highest degree of employee satisfaction. In fact, 40% of workers surveyed said paid job training is very important to them. Tuition assistance also helps a business reduce employee turnover. It is such a valuable benefit, employees will stick around longer, saving a business the cost of having to hire and train new workers. Plus, all that education means that when the business needs it, it will have a pool of qualified employees from which they can hire from within.

Conclusion
As an insurance agent, your business clients may look to you to determine what they can do to get and keep the hardworking employees they need. You can help them by staying informed on current benefits trends that reflect what workers today are looking for in an employer.

About FastrackCE
Summer is a busy time of the year. If you need to complete your continuing education credits this summer season, FastrackCE can help! At FastrackCE, we make it easy for insurance professionals to maintain continuing education licensing requirements conveniently online and on your schedule. For information, call 800-544-3605 or visit fastrackce.com.

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