Your Best Rates on Car Insurance from Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook

4:55 PM, Oct 30, 2013   |    comments
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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Did you know that by choosing the right car insurance company, most Twin Citians can save hundreds, even up to a thousand dollars, for auto insurance each year?

Robert Krughoff of Twin Cities Consumer Checkbook joined KARE 11 News at 4 to drive us through the surprising results.

Checkbook evaluated local auto insurance companies using several different measures: premiums for several different policyholder types at four locations; survey responses received from area policyholders who had filed claims; complaints filed with the Minnesota Department of Commerce; and results of surveys of body shop owners in which we asked them to rate auto insurance companies on treating their customers fairly.

The Checkbook report includes the following findings:

Many consumers will save $400 or more a year by switching auto insurance companies. Some will save $1,000 or more.

For one St. Louis Park couple with two cars and for which the husband had a recent traffic violation, CHECKBOOK's shoppers were quoted annual rates for basic automobile insurance coverage from $614 with Allstate to more than $2,800 with Metropolitan.

For a St. Paul family with a 21-year-old son and three cars, CHECKBOOK found premiums ranging from $1,263 with Allstate to nearly $8,900 with Metropolitan.

Checkbook says you can start saving right away. There is no need to wait until your current policy term expires to switch-if you find a lower-priced insurer, you can cancel your current policy and have your old insurance company refund the unused share of your premium.

Which company offers the lowest rates for each consumer depends on a number of factors, but for the policyholder profiles Checkbook used in its comparisons, the following companies consistently offered low rates:

Allstate, GEICO, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive.

According to Checkbook rates offered by State Farm, by far the largest insurer in Minnesota, were typically about average or higher than average for all profiles.

AAA, American Family, Auto-Owners, Farmers, Metropolitan, USAA, and Western National also failed to offer low rates for all profiles.

Because very large insurers often have higher rates than their lower-cost competitors, there are big opportunities for many local consumers to save a lot of money.

Fortunately, you don't have to forego good service to get a low premium. For each of the profiles CHECKBOOK shopped, at least one low-cost insurer received above-average ratings from its surveyed customers.

The companies rated highest for "speed of payment" on claims were Country, Amica, USAA, GEICO, Ameriprise, and Western National.

In Checkbook's survey of auto body shops, Western National, Auto-Owners, State Farm, Travelers, and Country were highly recommended for treating customers fairly. Geico and Allstate were rated lowest.

Checkbook evaluated local auto insurance companies using several different measures: premiums for several different policyholder types at four locations; survey responses received from area policyholders who had filed claims; and body shop owners, among other things, to rate auto insurance companies on treating their customers fairly.

Through special arrangement with nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers' CHECKBOOK, KARE 11 viewers can access CHECKBOOK's full report on auto insurance without a subscription until Wednesday, November 6, 2013 via Checkbook and KARE Auto Insurance.

Robert Krughoff also touched on the health insurance considerations.

Although there have been delays and glitches, millions of consumers will over the next few months for the first time be able to choose among multiple health insurance plans in the health insurance marketplaces (exchanges) set up under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").

Making the right choice can save many of these consumers thousands of dollars and help them get much better health care than if they make other choices. To assist them, Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization that has been helping consumers choose health plans for more than 34 years, has put together the following tips.

To Keep Costs Down

- Check what you'll have to pay in premiums-but don't go by premium alone because the plans with the lowest premiums will often cost you much more than other plans when you take into account out-of-pocket costs including deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket limits.

- Compare what you might have to pay out-of-pocket. See if the marketplace website gives you a single dollar-amount average total cost for people like you-same age, family size, etc. Because comparing out-of-pocket costs can be very difficult and confusing, some marketplace websites (such as Massachusetts' and Colorado's) will be giving such total-cost estimates and others may have this capability soon (unfortunately, the federal government's website, which will be used by a majority of states, does not yet have this feature).

 
-Don't choose based on deductible alone. Plans with low deductibles often prove to be very expensive-especially if they have high coinsurance or don't have a low limit on the most you could ever have to pay if you have an unexpected disease of accident.

- Try to find an estimate of your risk-what your total cost would be in a year if you have very high health-care usage. Some plans are good on average but leave you with very high costs in a bad year. A few marketplaces are set up to give you such bad-year estimates for each plan; others may offer this help soon.

To Have a Good Choice of Doctors and Other Providers

- See if the marketplace lets you enter the names of doctors you know you would like to be able to see and then automatically tells you which plans have those doctors. If not, you will have to go to each plan's website to look at the plan's doctor directory (the federal government's website does not have an all-plan provider directory).

- If there are doctors you care a lot about and a plan lists them as available, follow up with a call to these doctors' offices to be sure the doctors intend to continue accepting insurance coverage from patients in the plan.

 
- If you don't have doctors you care about, this would be a good time to try to identify a preferred doctor or doctors-at least a good primary care doctor and maybe specialists of types you know you will want-and check whether any such doctor participates in plans you might consider.

To Get Good Care and Customer Service in a Plan

- Check what surveyed members have said about the plan. Many marketplaces will post the results of official, standardized surveys where the members rate, for example, the availability of good doctors when they need them, the helpfulness of plan websites and customer service staff, speed and fairness of claims handling, etc.

- Check whether the plan provides services you might want to help you stay healthy or deal with medical problems. Some plans offer free weight-loss and fitness programs, stop-smoking programs, nurses to help sick patients manage care and coordinate care from multiple providers, etc. Look for evidence that a plan's programs really have a track record of success.

Words of Caution

- Be wary if a marketplace tries to give you a total estimate of out-of-pocket cost based on how many doctor visits, prescriptions, etc. you say you expect to have. That type of total cost estimate ignores possible very high expenses for accidents, diseases, etc. that you can't predict.

- The best plan for you or your family might not be the same plan as is best for other people with different ages, family makeup, health conditions, or other characteristics.

 
- Don't assume that the bronze, silver, gold, or platinum labels on plans tell you which plan will be cheaper for you. The lowest-cost silver plan might be $2,000 less expensive than the lowest-cost bronze plan for one family with certain age and health-care needs, and the opposite might be true for another family when considering premium and what you have to pay out-of-pocket.

 
- Be aware that you might have to pay back part or all of the tax credit the marketplace (exchange) tells you you'll get to help pay your premium. The tax credit is based on your family income in a prior year and you might have to pay some or all back on a future tax return if your income turns out to higher than what was used to figure the credit. If you are worried about that, you can choose to take a smaller credit.

- Even when looking at specific benefits, look at the details and exceptions. For example, when you see a figure for the maximum amount you will have to pay out-of-pocket in a year, check whether that limit applies to drugs you might take.

- Don't narrow the list of plans you will consider without checking what you will be giving up. Some exchanges might ask you up front if you want to rule out joining an HMO or joining a plan that does not have your doctor. If you do such narrowing up front, you might never see plans that would cost you thousands of dollars less or that have great doctors and customer service. 

- Don't rely too much on examples plans give of the costs for specific procedures or conditions. All plans are required to tell consumers how much the out-of-pocket costs will be for a normal childbirth and for a typical person with controlled diabetes. Check that information. But be aware that, for example, a plan might require members to pay a low portion of costs for childbirth but a relatively high portion for most other types of service.

For Additional Assistance

- Visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for more information; both the website and call center are operated by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services and are intended to provide information and put consumers in touch with resources related to the exchanges.

These tips are based on Consumers' Checkbook's research, consumer-testing, and experience helping consumers choose insurance plans.

The organization has provided Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans in annual books and online since 1979, focused on helping 8 million Federal employees and retirees who get to choose plans in an insurance program that includes more than 200 plans. Based on this work, Checkbook has developed a website that stands out in the Consumer Reports Choice Architecture report comparing the major health plan comparison tools.

Checkbook is working with various states helping them set up their marketplaces with easy ways to compare health plan costs, quality, and access to high-quality doctors. And Checkbook has created a model health plan comparison tool (at www.checkbook.org/plancompare) to guide states and the federal government in creating online tools that will make it easy for consumers to choose the right plan for their needs and preferences.

About Consumers' CHECKBOOK/Center for the Study of Services
Consumers' CHECKBOOK/Center for the Study of Services (www.checkbook.org) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inform the public about the quality and cost of available service providers, educate members of the public on how to select and deal with such providers, and disseminate information that can guide and motivate service providers to deliver higher quality, more efficient services.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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