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Originally published May 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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"Current consumer-protection laws are not enough."

A sampling of readers' letters, faxes and e-mail.

Insurance portfolio

Our new policy will cover broken fidelity bonds

Editor, The Times:

As an insured of Washington state, I find "Expanding insurance liability will hurt businesses, consumers" [Times guest commentary, May 7], on Senate Bill 5726, is full of inaccuracies and misleading.

First of all, Washington state has no punitive damages. Any damages above actual damages are ordered at the discretion of the judge.

When an insured is unreasonably denied a claim for coverage or payment of benefits, Senate Bill 5726 gives the insurance commissioner authority to step in to help the insured, which help was sorely lacking in respect to "first-party claimants."

Maybe if this bill had been in place in 1994, I would not have had to fight Farmers Insurance Co. for 12 years for pertinent benefits that were part of my policy and that I was rightfully entitled to (see Mulcahy v. Farmers Insurance Co. of Washington, et al., 152 Wn.2d 92).

First-party policyholders do not have "a number of avenues to seek redress for a grievance against an insurance company"; they have the courts — a very expensive proposition, and many people cannot afford the cost.

Senate Bill 5726, on which I testified, is, for insureds, a step in the right direction. In fact, I would like to make it an even playing field and make it a felony for insurers to commit (bad-faith) fraud, as it is for insureds if they breach their policy.

Is that fair?

— Mary Mulcahy, Seattle

Law of small numbers

Senate Bill 5726, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act, will restore balance to the insurance system, and create incentives for insurance companies to treat their customers more fairly. It will not cause a rash of lawsuits or raise premiums.

SB 5726 should actually reduce litigation by requiring fewer people to sue their insurance company just to get a claim paid. Insurers will realize they can no longer treat their customers unfairly by offering artificially low claims settlements or delaying any offer at all, and will start acting more reasonably.

Insurers that have any reasonable basis to challenge coverage or the amount of damages in a given claim can still do so. This bill does not restrict their rights. It simply addresses behavior that is unreasonable.

Currently, even if the insurance company is taken to court, the worst that can happen is the insurer will have to pay what it owed its customer in the first place.

There is no incentive for the insurance company to pay the claim sufficiently, on time, or at all.

Current consumer-protection laws are not enough. If they were sufficient, we wouldn't keep hearing accounts of insureds having legitimate claims denied, delayed and ignored with no explanation — even when the insurance company had no real basis for denying the claim.

— Todd Nichols, attorney at law, Everett

You never know what to expect

I recently learned about a new insurance-industry practice that certainly crosses the line of fairness and should be investigated.

As my homeowner's policy has come up for renewal, I decided to seek quotes from other companies for comparison. I was informed by one of the insurance agents that I was being rated up as a result of a claim filed last year.

You could imagine my surprise, as I haven't filed a claim in 14 years. Apparently, as a result of an inquiry I made last year as to whether a small leak in my ceiling would be covered or not, my insurance company reported to an industry database that I filed a claim. I did not.

I now learn it is industry practice for insurance companies to file reports even if a claim isn't filed.

This is now one more database for consumers to have to watch, for correct and accurate reporting.

— Rob Walzer, Sammamish

What's the point of service plan?

I read with interest "It's all about the money: an unkind cut" [Northwest Voices, May 8], about a reader who was concerned about his son paying around $900 for three stitches administered in the emergency room. "That's more than $300 per stitch," he said. However, his son had a $1,500 deductible, so it "did not cover any of this procedure.

The truth is, it was covered, it was just "subject to the deductible."

The reader said, "It's time to rethink our approach."

My question is, what approach is he talking about? How about being happy his son didn't have a $15,000 or a $150,000 procedure? He would have been happy his son had insurance then, would he not?

Or how about the approximately $100 per month his son probably saved by not having a $500 deductible. Did the reader consider that?

It's true that medical care is expensive but that's why we need insurance. Did the reader suppose universal health care would have saved $50-$100 per stitch? Or maybe saved an hour of the three spent at the hospital?

The "approach" that needs to be rethought is being glad the hospital was available for their needs, and consider what it takes for such an institution to keep its doors open 24 hours, even on Christmas, for our medical needs.

— Jon Hanson, Kirkland

Good territorial rating

I think your readers would be interested in my experience with the "socialist" French health-care system, which Froma Harrop mentioned ["Don't expect the French to go into full Yankee mode," syndicated column, May 8].

Four years ago on my visit to Paris, I had an acute angina attack (almost-heart attack). I was admitted to a hospital and charged $2,000 for one day. This was a fixed-price deal. It included an angioplasty performed through the wrist — the most sophisticated technique — and basically unlimited follow-up visits for the next three weeks.

During the last visit, before my flight back home, a doctor on short notice performed an ultrasound to make sure there were no clots in my swollen legs.

I thought it was bad luck to get sick on my first day in Paris, but in retrospect, I was very lucky that it happened in Paris, of all places on Earth.

— Roman Budzianowski, Seattle

Speaking of France

I see someone's undermanned

Good job covering the French presidential election! ["Sarkozy elected president of France," News, May 6.]

Wouldn't it be nice if we could know our own election results so quickly after the polls close?

— John Carlin, Edmonds

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