Understanding Your Insurance Is Your Responsibility

Insurance is complicated.  I doubt many people in this world would claim otherwise.  But, regardless of how complex it is to understand or figure out, the fact is that you are responsible to understand it.

After all, let’s envision the following conversation between a customer and an insurance agent.

Customer: I see that you denied my claim.
Insurance company: That’s correct, we did.  You weren’t eligible for coverage on that procedure.
Customer: But I didn’t understand the coverage.
Insurance company: Oh, well then in that case, we’ll go ahead and approve it.

If it’s hard to picture that, it’s probably with good reason.  It never, ever happens!

Jacob from My Personal Finance Journey recently wrote an article outlining a situation requiring medical attention which took place while he and his family were on vacation.  Because he took the time up front to know what his insurance covered in that circumstance, he was able to make choices which provided the best care and did so at basically no cost.

Had he not understood what his insurance offered, the outcome could have been much different.  He could have chosen care that might not have been covered, and we all know that situations like that could see costs run into the thousands of dollars.

Instead, he spent a grand total of $8.

Wow.

So, do you think it might be worth it to understand your insurance.

Example of Understanding Your Insurance Coverage

Here are some personal example of how understanding our coverage in various instances has either led to us changing our coverage, making informed decisions, or working with providers.

  • Homeowners insurance coverage defaults – For the first couple of years that we lived in our house, we had default coverage.  When I started looking into the line mb-201405booksitems that went outside of covering our dwelling, I found out that I was uncomfortable with some of the limits pertaining to water backing up in our basement or coverage if someone got injured on our property.  I made some adjustments at a small cost that now will give us better coverage in the event of either of those situations.
  • Wisdom teeth diagnosis – Several years back, I was having jaw pain, and my dentist diagnosed that I needed my wisdom teeth out.  They filed it under an exam charge.  Since my coverage allowed for two exams per year, this meant that my second preventative visit of the year wouldn’t be covered.  I worked with my dentist to re-file the claim under a different code that allowed me to get payment on that claim, as well as get all preventative work that I needed.
  • Urgent care  vs. ER – Our daughter recently needed stitches, and since I understood the costs involved with an urgent care visit versus and ER visit, I was able to get her good care at a more affordable price, and probably save her the stress that would have come from the ER.
  • Current dental coverage understanding – Our current dental coverage is pretty bare bones.  It’s pretty low cost to us, but the limits and coverage are pretty light compared to any coverage I’ve had.  However, I didn’t know some of the specifics as the plan information was pretty vague.  I spent five minutes on the phone and now understand things that will let me schedule visits and know what things we can and can’t get done in terms of being covered.  For example, I’ve always had coverage which included x-rays at each preventative visit.  Our current coverage only allows for those once per year.  We’ll either have to decline on the second visit or the year or pay out of pocket.  Not spending the time to know this could have resulted in a big charge from my dentist that I wouldn’t be prepared for

How Do You Figure Out Your Insurance?

  • Reading through the insurance materials.
  • Talk to your insurance agent (if applicable)
  • Talk to the insurance company
  • Talk to your HR group (if it’s company sponsored insurance)
  • Use the internet.  Online has a lot of great information.  But, since it also has a lot of bad information, you should verify everything you learn using this method.

As you can see, understanding the nuances of your insurance is complicated, but it’s a necessary thing that you alone are responsible for.  Properly understanding your insurance can save you time, money, and give you peace of mind.

I’d say those are pretty worthwhile things, so understanding your coverage is time well spent.

Why Cell Phone Insurance Is A Must Have In Our House

There’s a lot of back and forth on whether purchasing insurance for electronic items is a worthwhile deal.  We have several things with insurance in our house, specifically our flat screen TVs, an exercise bike, and a dehumidifier.  All of these were purchased after careful consideration.  The exercise bike was a replacement of a treadmill that had gone bad and was covered under warranty, so it worked.

One thing we never even question is our cell phones.  Since I switched to a work provided phone, I receive cell phone protection automatically, as I was directed to sign up for it when choosing my plan and such.

But, the ‘must have’ rule applies for my wife.  Why? Well, to put it kindly, things don’t usually end well with her and her phones!

She has the best of intentions, but every insurance we’ve place on her phones has been used at least once.  In the few years we’ve been on a shared plan, she’s had three different phones, and all have been replaced.

Phone 1: Blackberry

In 2010, my wife and I both got Blackberries, literally a month or two before the bottom fell out on their usage.  Nonetheless, we decided to purchase protection through SquareTrade.  About a year later, my wife’s went south.  It got extremely hot to the touch and wouldn’t hold a charge or do anything.  Since we had the same model, I even swapped out the battery, to no avail.  It was shot.

SquareTrade has us send in the phone, and their terms were that they paid us the purchase value of the phone.

Phone 2.0, and 2.1: HTC Junk

So, with $350, my wife went to get a replacement phone.  She chose an Android device, an HTC to be exact.  We got a good deal at the Sprint store, as they had ‘extra’ in stock of a new device that they could discount for us since it was out of contract.  The deal was pretty good, though I had my suspicions on whether it was a new phone (as they said it was).

For this phone, we signed up for the protection offered through Sprint.  They charged $7 or so per month.

It wasn’t more than a few months and the phone started having some serious problems.  The touch pad wouldn’t work, and Sprint replaced some components and re-flashed it.  This worked for a short time, but the phone started acting up again, so they replaced it (this time with a refurb). The new phone did the same thing after awhile, and Sprint acknowledged that the phone…well, it sucked.  It had a slide-out and the slide-out often caused things to get mis-aligned.

It might have been replaced one more time.  I can’t even remember.  All I know is that this thing was ‘in the shop’ more often than a 1980’s GM lemon.   Sprint was starting to get annoyed, since at this point my wife had completed her contract, and with each repair they tried to get her into a new phone with a two year re-up.  We were trying to stick it out to get in sync with other members on the plan, so we kept refusing.

Then, my wife’s phone met my in-laws tile floor and the screen went into a million pieces.  Since this was not a mechanical failure, a deductible would apply.  Since she was now ready to get a new phone anyways and the phone was so out of date that she probably wouldn’t have been able to sell it to recoup the deductible cost, she ended up just getting a new phone.

Phone 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2: iPhone 5

mb-201310phoneBy this point, she was enamored with Apple products and wanted an iPhone.  We looked around and the best deal was to get the phone through Best Buy.  It was $50 cheaper than Sprint could offer at any of their stores or online.

While we purchased the phone, they offered the ‘Best Buy’ protection plan.  It seemed like a lot of money, around $229 for the duration of the plan, but we ended up going with it.  The plan included things like water damage protection (this is important in a minute), no deductibles, unlimited replacements (SquareTrade, for example, limits you to essentially one), and even included price guarantees for trade-in at the end of your contract.  Plus, the cost per month spread out over 24 months was less than the $11 offered on Apple products through Spint.

So, we purchased it.

And luckily we did.

My wife didn’t have the phone more than a couple of months when we went to a concert.  She had a drink in one hand, her phone in the other, and well, it’s pretty easy to imagine what happened.  Ker-sploosh.

She grabbed the phone out an instant after it went in, and everything actually seemed to work great.  It never went out, the data kept working, texting was working, it accepted a charge, and it seemed she had skirted danger.

Until the next day.  When she went to make a call.  And she could barely hear.

This was actually kind of funny because the speaker was on top, where the phone went bottom first, yet the part that never got submerged was what stopped working.

She tried a few tricks, like drying it out in rice, but the damage was done.  So, off to Best Buy we went.

She was truthful about what happened.  They tried to troubleshoot it insomuch as they turned it off and on, and tried it themselves, and agreed to order her a new phone.  The only downside was that it is a re-furb.

But, really, since the protection continues through the life of your two year agreement, it’s a pretty minor inconvenience.

A couple of days later her replacement showed up.  She got everything transferred over and left the store, everything appearing to work fine.

Until we drove away, and the data stopped working.

Sprint is currently working to upgrade the Detroit area from 3G to 4G LTE.  Around our house, it’s about half transitioned.  The store had 4G LTE, but other areas are still only on 3G.  As it turns out, the phone would not connect to 3G.  I spent a long time on the phone with Sprint, and they tried a whole host of things, but confirmed that it was two different antennas within the phone, and speculated that the initial problem with the phone could have in fact been the 3G antenna.

Back to Best Buy. The tech tried a little more advanced troubleshooting, but ended up agreeing that the phone was not right.

Another order was placed, another couple of days went by, and another phone arrived.

This one worked great on all accounts.

Still, we’re in our third month and on the third phone.  The protection plan, I would say, has already paid for itself.

Readers, do you get cell phone protection?  Has not having it ever burned you?

Insurance Can Be Complicated, But Only If You Let It Be

Insurance is one of those things that you don’t want but that you have to have.

Whether it be car insurance, life insurance, or property insurance, it’s important to make sure that you’re properly covered.  Part of this means to make sure that you’re getting the best coverage at the lowest rates.

One of the things I’ve heard about insurance is that you should shop all of your insurance around once per year.  I’ve seen other bloggers go so far as to schedule a personal day off of work to spend exclusively on their insurance.

So, it’s a pretty big deal!

I don’t go that far to review our insurance, but staying on top of costs and coverage are activities I definitely go through.  Here’s a few things that I do:

Talk to my agent regularly

We have our homeowners insurance and auto insurance through the same company (using one provider for multiple policies is an almost sure-fire way to save money).  We’ve used the same agency for over 10 years.  And, I keep in touch with my agent regularly so much that he and his assistant know (or do a really good job at pretending to know) me when I call.

Know the lingo

As such, my agent looks out for me but I also look out for myself.  When I get a policy renewal notice, I always compare every line to see the cost difference in what I’m paying versus what I’ve paid in the past.  I also make sure to understand what each item actually means.  That way, if I call somewhere else to get a car insurance quote, I can make sure that I’m truly getting a side-by-side comparison quote.

It’s also important to know what your coverage is so that you can make changes to the default coverage.  For two years after we bought our home, I had default coverage limits on many items.  When I took a closer look, I realized that I was uncomfortable with some of the coverage limits, and made adjustments, but it was only by researching what each item meant, that I was able to do so effectively.

Use every available option

We don’t have life insurance coverage through the same agency as our homeowners and auto policy.  We don’t have coverage through any agency, in fact.

You might say, “Beagle, how can you not have life insurance?  What if something were to happen to you?  After all you do have a wife and two kids.  What would happen to them?’

And my response would be: They’d be covered.

See, we don’t have life insurance through an agency simply because we have it through my employer.

My employer offers life insurance as a payroll withdrawl for up to 10x my salary.  They also offer coverage for my spouse and even small amounts for children.

I use this versus an agency because the price is virtually  unbeatable.  Last year, I called my agency and requested a quote compared to what I can get through my employer, and the best they could come up with was double the cost of what I pay now via payroll deductions.

If you have alternative options to get coverage, make sure you look into them.

I’m very comfortable with my level of coverage, but this also comes from having a good knowledge of what I have.  So, don’t let your insurance befuddle you.  Not knowing and understanding your coverage and your options is an almost guaranteed way to get caught holding the bag, most likely at a time when you can least afford to do so.

How comfortable are you with your insurance coverage?

I Can’t Believe Open Enrollment Will Be Soon

In a sign of how quickly the year is going by, we got an announcement about the open enrollment period for 2012 insurance.   They haven’t announced a date but they did announce some good news, and that’s that they are freezing premiums and co-pays (and in some cases, even lowering the co-pays) for next year.  They also said they will be lowering out of pocket maximums.

That’s definitely great news.  Last year saw a huge increase, though, way above market average, so honestly, this years freeze will probably just level things out to where they ought to be anyways.

We had considered going with an High Deductible Plan in 2011, but because we knew we were having a baby and the associated costs with that, we opted for the more traditional plan, which had higher premiums but also paid out more and had low deductibles.  If we anticipate that our medical needs will be lower in 2011, this could be a good way to go, especially depending on what they come out with for the out-of-pocket maximums.

I’ll keep you updated when the actual info comes out, but that is a welcome bit of good news (now, we just have to see if there will be any raises!).

How are things shaping up for your 2012 insurance enrollment?

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Does Your Insurance Agent Make A Difference?

I never really gave much thought to who my insurance agent was.  I have been with Allstate since 1996 when my parents booted me off their plan following my college graduation.  At the time, they were the cheapest I could find with a company name I trusted.

They’ve provided good service and when I’ve comparison shopped my policies a couple times since, I’ve never found a deal convincing enough to leave.

When I first signed up, I was assigned an agent that was most likely closest to where I lived.  At some point when I was living in my condo in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, I got a letter stating that the agent I was with had retired and I was being assigned to a new agent that was the closest to where I lived.

Whatever, right?

I then got another letter from the new agent welcoming me as a customer.  More whatever, right?  They were all about looking out for my needs and what seemed standard stuff you put in a letter to make sure your new customer doesn’t jump ship.

Except it wasn’t just talk.  This agent has actually looked out for me over the years.

He calls me just to check in.  He sat down and reviewed our policy line by line when we added my wife to the policy around when we got married and again when we moved into our house.  When I call with any questions, both him and the lady that does the ‘grunt work’ both know me by name.

Even though we moved about fifteen miles away, we still stuck with that agent because I felt that they really were actually looking out for us.

Recently, though, they really blew me away.

I got a call from the agent. He was obviously excited about something, so much that I thought he was calling to tell me that he had just finished a marathon or something (which, even though we’re friendly, would have been odd).  But, as it turns out, he had proactively looked at our auto and homeowners policy, ran some numbers, and found that we could increase our coverage without paying more.

Wait, not just avoid paying more, but save roughly 15%.

By adding an umbrella policy over the top of our auto and home policies, we could reduce the liability coverage on those two policies, dropping them in cost substantially, but add it back in and then some with the umbrella policy.  The coverage stays the same.  All the deductibles stay the same.  Our liability coverage actually works in our favor.  The only changes are that we have three policies to pay instead of two and that the total amount over a year will be 15% less than what we paid last year.

Pretty cool, huh.  I did all the research I could.  I reviewed every line on the policies to make sure I wasn’t missing something or setting myself up for a fall later.  So far as I can tell, it’s all on the level!

The 15% stuck out in my head as memorable because of the ‘Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more’ tagline from Geico.  Turns out, with Allstate, I didn’t even have to spend the fifteen minutes.  My agent did, and I still got the savings.

It’s pretty hard to beat that!

Have you ever had a company go out of their way to save you money when they probably didn’t have to?

Having Health Insurance Is Hazardous To My Health!

As many of you know, we had a beautiful baby girl a month and a half ago.  As with any change, a new baby has meant that everything has changed.  While there are challenges, they’re all worth it for those beautiful moments that only a newborn can give you, a soft sigh, a little breath, or a touch of wonderfully soft skin.

One area that hasn’t been amazing has been the health insurance.  As with anything major, the cost of having a baby is pretty high.  There are insurance claims upon insurance claims.  The ironic part is that keeping on top of all the insurance claims have been a source of more stress than actually having a newborn!

Consider this:

Adding our baby was pretty simple.  HR walked me through the steps I would need to go through to add the baby to our insurance plan.  The plan wasn’t changing, since we were already on family coverage anyways, it was just adding her to the plan.

Simple enough, right?

It seemed so when she appeared on the website after I logged in a couple days after providing HR the information.

Smooth sailing, except that all of the claims associated with her delivery and hospital stay were…

Rejected.

Huh?

I talked to the insurance company and they said, “Well, it’s because you haven’t responded to the form we send out which makes sure that she isn’t covered by any other insurance plan.”  When I pointed out that I had just added her a couple of days ago and there was no possible way that I could have gotten that form and responded to it, the nice lady said “Oh, yeah, it probably hasn’t even gone out in the mail yet.”

Double huh?!?

At least she was nice about it.

She explained that the system that tracks the responses only provides a Yes/No as to whether this information has been provided.  If it’s no, the claim is rejected.  There’s no date stamp or any other flag that could at least give the customer a chance to receive the form and mail it back.

Luckily, the lady was super nice and she was actually able to enter my responses into the system on the phone, and submit the claims for re-processing.

Still, doesn’t that seem like a huge waste of everybody’s time over something so simple?

Here it seems that it’s a good thing that I have health insurance because I’m stressed but I’m stressed because I have health insurance!  Figure that one out!