The Consumer Bill of Rights: What is it to Me?
Insurance protects a broad range of investments, including automobiles, homes, and even your health. While insurance coverage is a standard necessity to most consumers, it is still a profit making industry, and insurance companies need to make regular profits in order to pay its employees and shareholders. It can be tempting for insurance companies to take advantage of the complexity of the insurance industry to oversell its clients or put its shareholders first. Fortunately, the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights was established to help ensure that customers and customer's interests are the focus of the industry first and foremost.
What is the Bill of Rights?
Basically, the Consumer Bill of Rights is a summary of your rights that is separate from your policy. It explains what your rights are as a consumer. A copy of these rights should be provided to you along with your policy. It does not cover what your responsibilities are as a policy holder, however. You should understand that if you fail to meet your obligations as a policyholder, it may have an affect on your rights as a consumer.
The Consumer Bill of Rights Explained
- You have the right to get information from the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) free of charge.
You can contact the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) free of charge by calling their 1-800 number (1-800-252-3439) or by contacting their office in Austin at 512-463-6515 to gain information about:
● Your rights as a consumer
● The status of your insurance company or agent's license
● The financial status of the insurance company in question
● The amount of complaints and type of complaints that have been filed against the company
● How the company uses your credit information
● The insurance rates the company has filed with the state
● The insurance company's underwriting guidelines
● The Market Assistance Program which helps underserved areas obtain liability insurance
● Any other unlisted consumer concerns
- You have the right to get information from your insurance company free of charge.
Your insurance company should supply you with a toll free 1-800 number to contact if you have questions or complaints. This phone number should be listed on your policy. There are certain exemptions to this one, but most major insurance carriers have a number you can contact listed on their website.
- You have the right to an honest exchange.
Your insurance company and the agent you're dealing with is not permitted to make any false, misleading, or deceptive claims to you about the insurance policy. For example, they can't claim the policy you're purchasing covers flooding only to find out later that it does not. Most calls are recorded, so agents can be held responsible for these statements.
- You have the right to choose your insurance company and purchase a fair policy.
A mortgage lender can require you to purchase insurance, but they cannot force you to go with any specific company. They also can't force you to purchase insurance that exceeds the amount it would cost to replace the home or its contents. They also cannot include the cost of the land when they are determining the replacement value of the home.
- You have the right to a policy regardless of your credit score.
Insurance companies are not allowed to deny you insurance coverage simply because your credit score is poor. They can use your credit information concurrently with other information when deciding to approve or deny coverage, but a poor credit score alone is not sufficient enough reason to deny you coverage under this rule.
- You have the right to fix appliance related water damage.
An insurance company is not permitted to deny you coverage or make your premiums increase due to an appliance related water damage claim if you've gone through the process of repairing or fixing the problem and had it inspected, and if you haven't had more than 3 claims in a 3 year period.
- You have the right to insurance even if there's previous water or mold damage.
If your home has had previous water damage or mold damage, or if a previous homeowner has filed a claim for either of those, you cannot be denied a claim based on this alone given that you've gone through the process of fixing it and had it inspected and certified.
- You have the right to have your home inspected independently.
The Voluntary Inspection Program gives you the right to have an independent inspection done by persons who are authorized by the Commissioner of Insurance to perform inspections. If the inspector determines that your property meets minimum requirements and gives you an inspection certificate, insurance companies can't deny you coverage based on property conditions unless they reinspect the property. Then, if they do deny coverage, they have to give you specific reasons in writing why the property is not insurable. To find a list of inspectors you can contact TDI at the numbers above.
- You have the right to basic homeowner's insurance.
If you've been denied homeowner's insurance by at least two companies, you can get coverage through the Texas Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan, or Texas FAIR Plan. If you need to locate an insurance agent who can sell this type of coverage, search the Texas FAIR Plan Association website at www.texasfairplan.org or call their toll free number at 1-800-466-6680.
- You have the right to purchase windstorm and hail coverage.
If you live in an area that is designated by the Commissioner as being in counties that are at risk of wind and hail damage, you have the right to purchase windstorm and hail coverage from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. You and your property do have to meet certain minimum requirements, so it is best to research those requirements if you live in one of those designated counties.
- You have the right to easy, no nonsense payments.
Insurance companies can't force you to make difficult payments or increase your premiums without notifying you. They need to notify you at least 30 days before the effective date if they are going to increase the amount they plan to withdraw from your financial institution electronically.
- You have the right to be notified if coverage changes.
If the insurance company is going to change your policy in any way, they need to notify you in writing of what those specific changes are.
- You have the right to be notified if your premium increases.
They need to let you know 30 days before your renewal date if the policy will increase by more than 10%.
- Explanation of Denial
You have the right to know, in writing, why you've been denied coverage. The statement the company provides needs to detail the exact circumstances that led to their disqualification of you as a policyholder.
- You have the right to privacy.
You have the complete and total right to prevent insurance companies, agents, and financial institutions, from releasing your personal and private financial information to anyone else that is not affiliated with the company. You are handing over your social security information, credit history, payment history, phone number, address, and more, and you should be able to trust that this information is safe and won't be sold or shared.