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Past Hurricane Season a Strong Incentive to Get an Insurance Checkup

1/24/2005

CONTACT: 
Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842
 
National ‘Get Smart About Insurance Week' kicks off today
 
 TALLAHASSEE – One in five Florida homes was damaged by one of last year's back-to-back hurricanes, and the Department of Financial Services fielded more than 150,000 calls from storm victims looking for help in understanding their insurance coverage.
 
Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher says Floridians must take steps now to make sure they are ready for the next hurricane season that begins June 1, and he said an insurance checkup is the best protection.  Gallagher and the Department of Financial Services are participating for the fourth consecutive year in "Get Smart About Insurance Week."  The annual public education campaign, which continues through Friday, is organized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and encourages an annual review of home, life, auto and property insurance coverage. 
 
"This is not about buying more insurance coverage if you don't need it, this is about making sure you have all the coverage that you do need," Gallagher said.  "Just as a physician's checkup protects your physical health, an insurance checkup will protect your family's financial health and give you peace of mind."
More than 30,000 Florida families were caught off guard when their homeowners' insurance companies charged more than one deductible as a result of the multiple storms.  Many did not realize that their policies required them to pay hefty out-of-pocket costs before their coverage kicked in.
 
This year, Gallagher will ask the Legislature to give consumers more choice when it comes to how much they want to pay out of pocket, and to require insurance agents to document that they fully disclosed the cost of deductibles. 
 
"Consumers must have all the information they need to ensure they understand the coverage they have before they ever need it," Gallagher said. 
 
To assist Floridians, the department offers an online system that allows Internet users to search an expansive consumer database or track a request for assistance.

Consumers can also browse updated FAQs and Consumer Guides.  The system, "Service Point," is available on the department's website at www.fldfs.com by clicking the "Service Point" icon.
 
 In addition to the website, the department provides a consumer helpline, at 1-800-342-2762, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.  Helpline specialists can assist consumers with questions about their coverage, verify the license status of their insurance agent or insurance company, file a complaint or report possible fraud. 
 
Gallagher offered these tips for a good checkup:
 
• Make sure you are dealing with a licensed agent who works for companies licensed to sell insurance in the state.  A business card is not proof of licensure.
• Shop among at least three companies for the best coverage at the best price. 
• Ask about discounts.  Some insurers offer discounts for multiple policies or longtime policyholders, or for an alarm in your home or automobile. 
• A higher deductible may mean a lower premium, but understand the pros and cons of higher deductibles.
• Read your insurance policy carefully.  It is a legal document.
• Keep your policy in a safe, waterproof location and take steps to protect your financial identity.  Identity thieves have used stolen information to file fraudulent claims and collect insurance payments.
 
Recent studies by the NAIC show few Americans understand the details of their insurance policies to the extent they should, and some are not aware they could even be the victim of a fake insurance scam.  The Department of Financial Services and the Office of Insurance Regulation have shut down 20 unauthorized entities selling fake insurance policies in Florida and have taken administrative or criminal action against more than 200 insurance agents, operators, agents, marketers and administrators for peddling those products in Florida. 
 
 "The key is to know your policy and know whom you are dealing with," Gallagher said.