Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: Washington State Database On Insurance Providers

by Matt Rosenberg September 9th, 2010

Today on my regular weekly KOMO-AM 1000 segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret government transparency project, I talked with “Nine To Noon” co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick about another consumer-friendly government database. It’s from the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s Office, and lets consumers check for disciplinary actions against insurance companies and agents, by name and by year. A related database at the site provides information on the financial background of long-term health care providers. Here’s the original Ferret write-up, plus the audio segment. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “Before you choose an insurance agent, or if you want to make sure the one you’re currently with is a good one, you probably should consult the Internet. Matt Rosenberg of communityforums.org is with us for our regular Wednesday visit, and Matt, this particular feature is put out by the State Insurance Commissioner’s Office. What kind of information can you find about your insurance agent?”

Matt Rosenberg: “Well, we talk about this at our Public Data Ferret hub, and they’ve got a special database where you can check for disciplinary actions against insurance companies or agents. Links to key documents are always included, which is really helpful. And one way is to search by name because there are things you want to know about most of the players. So, I gave it a whirl. One well known company has paid substantial fines several times in recent years. Once was for overcharging some 2,000 auto policyholders by $600,000 total by dropping their multi-vehicle discounts due to an error during a computer system upgrade. But the state was on it, and the mistakenly revoked discounts were paid back with interest. Another time, they denied coverage to 38,000 homeowners insurance applicants because of poor credit scores, but failed to offer recourse.

You can also check by year, and let me just quickly tell you about some of the 2010 lowlights. We had agent or agency license revocations for misappropriating premiums, for felony embezzlement, and felony grand theft. There was also an order to cease and desist for blatantly deceptive marketing of an alleged long term health care plan by a Pakistan-based provider, and then a Rhode island based company that inflated premiums on auto policies and also withheld discounts to elderly homeowners.”

Nancy Barrick: Wow, that’s quite a list there, Matt. Now, also, a lot of people are interested in health insurance, right now. And there’s a specific section where you can check out health insurance carriers?

Matt Rosenberg: “That is quite true Nancy, and I think that’s another really neat feature here. Consumers can use the Health Carriers Information Comparison tool to review the ratio of claims paid to premium payments, which if you think about it, is something you’d want to know, as well as the administrative costs of a given long term health care plan, the average monthly premiums, the amount of the company’s surplus, and their profit margin. So, all this is real helpful. You know where to tread very carefully, and where to take your business.”

Brian Calvert: “Interesting stuff. Matt Rosenberg. Thanks for stopping by. He’s with communityforums.org. To get more information at their web site, go to komonews.com/radio and click on “Nine To Noon.”

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