Insurance news touched the lives of every American in 2012. Dim the lights, cue the music and ready the ball to drop (no worries, it's insured), because here's my countdown of the top 10 insurance stories of the year.
10. Bundling: Allstate continued to wash its hands of "unprofitable" business by shedding 10,000 South Carolina homeowners insurance customers who refused to bundle in their auto insurance and have their cars covered by the "good hands" people, too. The company previously purged 45,000 nonbundling North Carolina customers in November 2011, sparking protests from Bankrate readers.
9. Curbing bad habits: Insurance companies are sick of paying for our bad habits. A Cornell University study found that obesity directly contributes to $190 billion in health care costs each year, a staggering 20 percent of our national health care expenditures. Employers are choking on the cost to insure workers who smoke, a breathtaking $193 billion each year, or an additional $11,000 per smoker annually. As for intoxicants, health insurers have convinced legislatures in 25 states to pass "alcohol exclusion" laws that allow insurers the option to not cover you if you injure yourself while buzzed on alcohol or drugs.
8. Texting, driving and dodging: Federal officials say the use of mobile devices while driving causes 3,000 fatalities each year. The question is, how will the auto insurance industry respond? So far, it has largely avoided the subject.
7. Flood reform at last: The bad news? The National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, remains about $18 billion in the red, largely due to Hurricane Katrina. The good news? Last July, President Barack Obama signed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which extends NFIP for five whole years and ushers in long-overdue reforms designed to make the program self-sustaining for the first time in its history.
6. Auto under siege: The Consumer Federation of America took auto insurers to task in 2012, accusing the industry of charging the poor more for auto coverage; bilking consumers out of "tens of millions of dollars" by manipulating computerized claims data; using personal information such as gender, employment and education to set policy rates; and quoting excessively high rates on online shopping sites. An insurance trade group responded that car insurance rates are seeing increases in line with overall inflation.
5. New homeowners pay more: New homeowners felt the sting of weather-driven home insurance rate increases, paying on average 19 percent more in 2011, a jump from $682 a year to $810 nationally.
4. Preventive care included: For the first time in history, the federal government now requires health insurers to provide dozens of preventive screenings and services to all insured Americans without additional cost. The requirement, part of health care reform, is especially beneficial to women, as it includes free mammograms and human papillomavirus, or HPV, testing.
3. Feds to run most state exchanges: Because more than half the states chose to work against rather than with health care reform these past three years, the federal government will set up and operate the mandated health insurance exchanges in two-thirds of the states beginning in 2014.
2. Isaac and Sandy: Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy, coming just a year after lumbering Hurricane Irene, proved yet again that slow-moving, widespread drenchers can cause just as much destruction as megastorms like Andrew and Katrina. The question lingers: Is this the new normal?
1. Obamacare survives two scares: The Affordable Care Act of 2010, Obama's landmark course adjustment for America's health care system, emerged largely unscathed from a contentious three-month U.S. Supreme Court battle, then cleared its final hurdle with the president's re-election.
A happy and prosperous new year to you all!
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