The holiday shopping season will be here before you know it. But there’s an even more important shopping period to think about first: Open Enrollment.
Whether you’re buying your own health insurance for the first time or are considering switching plans, Open Enrollment may seem like a confusing, stress-inducing event. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s everything you need to conquer this year’s health insurance signup process.
What is Open Enrollment?
Open Enrollment is the annual period of time when everyone gets a chance to sign up for health insurance for the coming year. This year, you may have heard the approaching enrollment period referred to as “Open Enrollment 2020”.
Employers that offer health benefits also have an annual enrollment period to allow employees to switch plans. While most companies kick off their signup process toward the end of the year (usually October or November), the start date and enrollment window vary from business to business.
Why is Open Enrollment a thing?
Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, signing up for individual health insurance was often a challenge. If you had a pre-existing health condition, or had a family history of certain types of diseases, insurers could deny you coverage or charge you much higher rates than healthy people.
These practices prevented people from gaming the system by only signing up for insurance after they developed a health issue. But they also kept many consumers from getting coverage, either because they were denied insurance or because they couldn’t afford it.
After the ACA was passed, new consumer protections were put in place to ensure everyone can get health insurance, regardless of health history. It also provided subsidies to help lower-income people pay for coverage. But these new policies removed the check in place to prevent people from getting insurance only when they really needed it. And thus, Open Enrollment was born.
Under normal circumstances, Open Enrollment is your once-a-year chance to sign up for health insurance. If you miss this window, you have to wait until the next Open Enrollment period to get a new plan (with some exceptions – more on that later). By restricting signups to a limited time frame, insurers are protected from people dropping in and out of plans, paying for coverage only when they have an active health issue.
What’s changed for this year’s Open Enrollment?
For the most part, this year’s Open Enrollment will look a lot like last year. The signup dates are the same. The state and federal Marketplaces still exist, and are one of several ways you can purchase a health insurance plan for 2020. Subsidies will still be available for those that qualify for financial assistance.
Looking for new health insurance for 2020? Start a free quote here.
When is Open Enrollment?For health insurance plans beginning in 2020, Open Enrollment starts on November 1, 2019 and ends on December 15, 2019. But some states have extended the Open Enrollment period until January to give people more time to sign up.
What information do I need to collect for Open Enrollment?
In order to sign up for a plan during Open Enrollment, you’ll need a few key pieces of information, including:
Can I sign up for insurance outside of Open Enrollment?
If you don’t sign up for a health insurance plan during Open Enrollment, and your life circumstances remain the same, you’ll have to wait until next November for your next chance to enroll. However, if your life circumstances do change, you may be able to get insured during a Special Enrollment period.
Special Enrollment is a 60-day enrollment window that happens when you experience a qualifying life event – a fancy phrase for a significant change that impacts your status. Qualifying life events include things like:
Contact our Benefits Department today to learn more and get covered!
They’re trees. And as with so many things in life, proper maintenance is critical. Keeping your trees healthy will allow you to continue to enjoy them and their benefits — one of which is providing enough oxygen for four people every day!
Maintenance also will reduce the risk of a tree falling on your home or your car (or even worse, someone else’s home or car).
Here are some tips from the National Arbor Day Foundation to help keep trees healthy, identify warning signs and address problems. A healthy tree that you care for properly — and regularly — is far less likely to become a hazard. Remember, prevention is key!
Inspect your trees often This applies to all seasons! The sooner you spot a problem, the sooner you can take corrective action — and potentially save your tree. Check trees regularly each year, and have a qualified arborist inspect them annually.
Plant the right species Brittle trees can produce weak limbs that fall and injure people or property. Examples include Silver Maples, Lombardy Poplars, Box Elders, and Willows.
Prune the right way, at the right time Trees should first be pruned when they are young, and then at regular intervals as they age. Make the cut outside the branch collar, and never allow trees to be topped.
Plant in the right place Don’t plant trees that will grow to be large close to your home or under power lines.
Learn to spot problems According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, there are several key things to consider when evaluating your trees for potential issues.
If you have a dead or dying tree, it should be promptly removed unless it is in an area where structures or people won’t be threatened. And have an expert do the job — bringing down a large tree is extremely dangerous, and accidents can result in severe damage, injury, and even death.
The law typically holds the owner responsible for damage or injury caused by a defective tree. So don’t forget about them when you’re working in the yard or examining your landscaping. Keeping your trees healthy can limit the potential for disaster — in addition to keeping your space beautiful and vibrant.
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, so we've compiled some information that may be useful to you!
These days even the most old school of business involves technology in some way, whether it be email, cell phone usage, a credit card machine, or even an online customer database. Even the smallest business with only a small amount of online interaction may be vulnerable to cyber hacking or attacks. Every business can benefit from some level of Cyber Liability coverage.
Are You At Risk?
Does your business engage in one or more of the following activities?
If you said yes to any of the above then your business is at risk for data breaches, security issues and even lawsuits for things like copyright infringement, intellectual property theft and plagiarism. Cyber Liability insurance can help.
Why You Need It
In just one week, virus removal software companies identified 30 new computer viruses to add to the long list of thousands (possibly millions) of known viruses from around the world. Each of those can be transmitted in a number of ways, including email, instant messaging, malware and malvertising.
Data breaches may also occur via accidental means such as an employee losing a laptop. Less accidental ways may include employees revealing passwords or customer information on social media. In fact, your employees may be more of a threat to your cyber security than hackers.
The losses due to global cyber crimes are estimated at $400 billion per year. In just one year, companies like Target and eBay were hacked, as was the federal government (click here for a list of recent breaches). Big companies like these make the news, but small businesses may be even easier to breach, and the cyber crime may go unnoticed for even longer.
Cyber Liability Coverage Can Help
Data breaches can be costly. When you think about all of the ways a data breach can affect your business, the financial losses add up quickly:
Take Preventative Measures
A data breach or hack doesn’t have to mean the end of your business. Contact Theodore & Associates to get a quote on a Cyber Liability insurance policy.
From building materials to furnishings, many of the things in your home likely aren’t as flame-resistant as those from yesteryear.
A fire in a modern home is a “perfect storm,” according to safety consulting and certification company UL (Underwriters Laboratories).
Larger homes, more open layouts, new construction materials and other factors mean fires burn more quickly, leaving less time for occupants to escape — and for firefighters to stop the flames. How much less time? About 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to get out of the house once it caught fire. Today? Just three or four minutes.
A lot goes into creating that “perfect storm,” experts say. Here are some key factors:
What can you do? Well, unless you’re having a house built or doing an extensive remodel, you can’t really change the materials used to construct your home. However, there are a few things you should do immediately to help keep you and your family safe, no matter where you live:
To learn more about fire safety, check out these tips from the American Red Cross. Because the best fire protection of all is preventing one from starting in the first place!
You probably don’t think your dog would ever bite someone, let alone cause a serious injury. But dog bites are more common than you might realize—4.5 million occur every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And most victims are young children.
Those injuries also have a bigger impact on homeowners insurance than you might realize: The Insurance Information Institute says dog-related claims accounted for more than $600 million in insurance payments in 2016.
(Keep in mind that it’s not just bites that cause injuries. Dogs can knock down pedestrians or cyclists, too, which often leads to severe medical issues as well.)
With those numbers in mind, it’s understandable that insurance companies want to know if you’ve got a dog in your household. Some even will refuse to insure you if you have a specific breed with a reputation for aggressive behavior, regardless of whether your dog has ever bitten someone.
Despite that, you should never hide the fact that you have a dog from your insurance company. If you do, and your dog then causes an injury, your coverage could be invalidated—leaving you on the hook for potentially tens of thousands of dollars or more.
When a bite happens
OK, so your insurance company knows about your dog. But do you have to tell them if the dog bites or injures somebody?
That depends. If it’s a minor incident, you might consider paying out of pocket for any medical expenses in an attempt to avoid the claims process and a potential increase in your premiums. (In some instances, insurance companies will not renew your policy or will exclude your dog from coverage after paying for a dog-related claim.)
However, this might violate your policy, which probably requires you to report changes in your circumstances. If you don’t report a bite, and the dog then bites someone else later, the insurance company might deny you liability coverage for the second incident. Ask us to outline your options.
Another risk is the threat of future claims from the victim. Injuries aren’t always immediately apparent, and complications can arise later. The victim might decide down the road to sue you. And if you’ve waited too long to report the incident to your insurance company, it might be too late to make a claim and receive all the protection your policy was meant to provide—which can include help with attorney fees, medical bills and more.
A $33,000 mistake?
Ask yourself this: How would your budget look if you had an unexpected $33,000 expense? The average claim payment for a dog injury in 2016 was about that amount. And that’s with an insurance company working on behalf of the insured. If you’re on your own, you could wind up paying even more—a lot more.
Our advice? Start with your agent and discuss your specific situation. Even if you decide not to file a claim—which is always an option—you’ll get guidance from a professional on our team who can help you assess the risk.
Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.
Football season in the south brings with it a whole host of seasonal activities for football fans, from game-day tailgates and sports bar outings, to friendly bets and bowl parties. At Theodore & Associates, we want your football season to be both exciting and safe, so as you cheer your team to victory, consider the following tips.
Game day insurance tips
Here are a few pointers for making sure your insurance provides an additional safety net on game day:
In light of Hurricane Dorian battering our coast right now, flood prevention & safety seemed like a fitting topic for this week.
Almost anywhere it rains, it can flood. Even if you live in an area of that you think isn’t at risk, preparation is just as critical as with other types of emergencies.
Before we get into how you can prevent, limit or react to flooding, it’s important to note that flood damage is typically not covered by your homeowners or renters insurance. There are specialized flood insurance programs that we can discuss with you. Contact us for more information.
Preparing for a flood
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends a number of steps to stay safe during emergencies and limit damage from flooding. You should:
Acting during a flood
If a flood is likely in your area, quick action may be necessary to protect your family and property. You should:
Coping after a flood
Flooding can cause emotional stress along with physical hazards, so be mindful of the well-being of yourself and your family during the aftermath.
The Red Cross has a free book available called “Repairing Your Flooded Home,” which contains useful information as you clean up. It’s available at www.redcross.org. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact us as well — we’re ready to help!
Flooding is one of the most common hazards in the U.S. Being prepared for any emergency is crucial for the safety of you and your family. Don’t be caught off guard!
If a massive disaster wiped out power to your region right now, with no hope of recovery for at least several days, would you be ready? Would you have a way to connect with your family? Would you have enough nonperishable food for everyone? In short, do you have the right plan and supplies to get through an emergency?
In the insurance business, we know a little something about helping people recover from disasters. We know that a little preparation goes a long way. So here are some tips from the Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and others on what you should put in an emergency preparedness kit for you and your family:
The big stuff: food and water
At home, consider keeping a two-week supply of nonperishable food on hand in a safe, dry place. You might already have a good head start on this, depending on what’s in your pantry. You also need a two-week supply of water, according to the Red Cross. That’s one gallon per person, per day. Don’t forget your pets. They’ll need their food and water as well. For evacuation situations, take a three-day supply of the above.
If the power is out for an extended period, you’ll need flashlights or battery-powered lanterns (with extra batteries). A portable, hand-crank radio will ensure you stay informed on the situation. A first-aid kit is a must, along with at least a week’s worth of any medications that family members need. Emergency blankets and warm clothes are crucial if the weather is cold. Don’t forget personal hygiene items.
You could be forced to evacuate, so it’s important to have certain things down on paper — for example, family and emergency contact information. You’ll also want to keep copies of personal documents, such as proof of address, passports, birth certificates, and insurance policies.
There are a multitude of other things you can include in your kit, of course. A multipurpose tool, extra cash, and maps of the area are a few recommendations, along with games and activities to keep the kids occupied, if needed.
Above all, consider the unique needs of you and your family when putting together your kit. Put everything in labeled containers that can be accessed quickly and carried if necessary. Once you’ve created your kit, check it each September during National Preparedness Month for expired items, including medications, and missing supplies.
Of course, we hope you never have to use your kit. But it’s far better to have one you don’t need instead of needing one you don’t have.
Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.
Disability insurance is not always top of mind for people — many of us likely think that it's only needed in the event of a serious accident or diagnosis. In truth, Disability Insurance is important for everyone.
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled during their working years. In addition, Guardian’s Workplace Benefits Study also reveals that 55 percent of employees found the financial impact of their disability incident to be major or devastating. Despite these statistics, only 54 percent of working Americans have disability—down from 65 percent in 2017.
The Theodore & Associates team wants to showcase the value of disability insurance for both employees and employers thinking about offering this key benefit.
1) Disability insurance can increase employees' financial security
Research shows that 66 percent of employees whose disability happened more than six years ago feel that they still have not completely recovered financially. However, more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which means they are unprepared to go without a single paycheck should they be out on disability. Disability insurance can help alleviate some of the financial strain caused by unexpected disabilities.
2) Disability insurance can be customized to your specific company's size, needs, and financial portfolio.
Employer-sponsored programs have features such as online enrollment, seamless payroll deduction and no medical exam requirement to enroll. This makes disability insurance efficient and attractive to employees.
But if your company cannot provide an employer-sponsored benefit, you may be able to provide access via an employee-funded disability insurance product. This helps shift the cost to the employees, yet helps demonstrate an employer’s commitment to enhancing their employees’ financial security. It’s a win-win.
3) Disability insurance can help integrate absence management
One critical component of an effective disability management program can be the integration of absence management capabilities. As more states pass paid leave laws, more companies need help navigating the complexities of absence management. Managing absences is a demanding job for even the most sophisticated HR teams. More worrisome is that if employers mismanage absences, they leave themselves open to costly lawsuits, fines, misuse of leaves and other issues. A well put together disability insurance plan can help deliver a holistic, integrated plan that includes both disability and absence management for their clients.
4) Disability insurance can boost employee satisfaction and retention
Research validates that utilizing disability insurance can sway employee perceptions of employers and enhance overall employee satisfaction (71 percent versus 54 percent). Employees with disability insurance—especially if they had it at the time of their incident—are more satisfied with their employee benefits and much more likely to feel that their company cares about them.
Additionally, a positive experience with a return to work (RtW) program can go even further to bolster an employee’s perception of its employer. For example, 70 percent said they feel their company cares for them after completing a RtW program. This is notable and something to consider when speaking with carriers about a RtW program, how it’s implemented, and its success rate. There’s a lot of value for both the employer and employee in helping employees return to work through an effective RtW program.
These are just some of the many benefits of one of the most misunderstood employee benefits available. For business owners and employees alike, there are misconceptions about not just the necessity but also the cost of disability insurance.
If you're considering offering a disability insurance benefit but have questions, or if you want to make sure your plan is still right for you, the Theodore & Associates team can help. Together, we'll explore a plan that works for your business and financial goals. Contact us today to start the conversation.
You’ve heard all the talk about driverless cars — but unfortunately, we’re still years away from living in a world where you just tell your car where to go, kick back and relax with a book (or, more likely, your phone).
But even though our driverless future has yet to arrive, and you still have to pay attention when you’re behind the wheel, technology actually plays a big role on the road already. And nowhere is that more apparent than the new safety features that make today’s cars safer than ever.
Those features might be even more important now, because drivers aren’t necessarily better these days. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2015 ended a five-decade trend of declining traffic fatalities — the 7.2% increase in deaths from 2014 was the largest jump since 1966.
Of course, we all know the basics of being a good driver: be alert, don’t speed, avoid distractions, remain mindful of the conditions, etc. While newer safety features aren’t a substitute for any of those things, they can be an excellent supplement to good driving habits.
So when you’re shopping for a new (or new-to-you) car, look for vehicles that have the following options recommended by the NHTSA. They might even help you save on your insurance!
Forward collision warning: These sensors in the front of the vehicle will warn you of an impending collision, giving you a chance to brake or steer clear.
Automatic emergency braking: Working with forward collision warning sensors, this will automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision.
Lane-departure warning: This uses cameras to keep track of your car’s position on the roadway; if you begin to drift from your lane unintentionally, an alarm notifies you.
Backup camera: These cameras, which are becoming standard equipment in more vehicles, automatically activate when the car shifts into reverse, giving you a view behind the car.
Electronic stability control: This is now standard on models 2012 and later, but if you’re purchasing a used car, consider one that offers this feature. It helps you keep control in slippery conditions and on curves — according to the NHTSA, it reduces the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about 50% and the risk of a fatal rollover by 80%.
Other features that may be available, depending on the make and model of car you choose:
Finally, don’t forget things that have little to do with technology, but still have a big impact on safety — such as the car’s size and weight, structure and restraint systems, and its NHTSA safety rating. To look up the cars you’re considering, visit Safercar Safety Ratings.
Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.