May 25, 2011

Missouri Department of Insurance offers guidance for Joplin tornado victims

Tips for filing claims, avoiding home repair fraud

Jefferson City, Mo. - The Missouri Department of Insurance says a high volume of insurance claims has already been filed by Joplin residents, and guidance for consumers is posted on the department's website. The information includes:

  • Toll-free numbers for the 20 largest home and auto insurance companies in the Joplin area.
  • Locations of mobile command units set up by some companies.
  • Guidance for storm victims for handling claims and protecting their property.
  • Guidance for dealing with health insurance: Many consumers may have to go outside their provider networks because of damage to health care facilities.
  • Instructions for filing a complaint with the department.

The online information will be updated as more information becomes available from insurance companies. The companies listed make up 80 percent of the Joplin market for homeowners insurance and 75 percent for auto insurance.

Insurance Director John M. Huff and other department officials have been in contact with senior leadership from Missouri insurance companies since the storm struck.

"For consumers with property damage, the time to act is now," said Huff. "Consumers should move quickly to protect their property and file claims with their insurance companies."

Huff on Thursday will visit Joplin to tour the mobile claims centers set up by insurance companies throughout the city. Huff and other employees of the Department of Insurance will also attend the community response meeting Thursday afternoon in Joplin beginning at 4 p.m. at the Taylor Performing Arts Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University.

Huff says many insurance companies will begin paying claims very soon to cover temporary living arrangements for consumers with homes left uninhabitable by the storm.

Huff's department says if you have storm damage, the key is to act quickly:

  • Contact your insurance agent or your insurance company's toll-free claims number as soon as possible. Some insurance companies have already set up mobile claims units with staff in Joplin.
  • If you have lost the contact information for your insurance company, the department may be able to help you locate the company. Also, Gov. Nixon has issued an executive order that allows pharmacists to dispense essential medications to patients whose medical records are missing or lost.
  • Make temporary repairs needed to prevent further damage. For example, a hole in the roof should be covered by a tarp or other material to keep rain out. Same goes for a broken car window. Otherwise, further damage will likely not be covered by insurance. Keep the receipts for materials you buy so you can be reimbursed.
  • Don't make permanent repairs until your insurance company has inspected the damage. If you do, your claim might be denied.
  • Once your claim is processed, get estimates from contractors or auto repair shops known to you or recommended by someone you trust. Be suspicious of solicitors who offer to do repairs for you.
  • If you believe your insurance company has not handled your claim properly, file a complaint with the Department of Insurance. The department will determine whether your insurance company has followed Missouri law in processing your claim.
  • Don't let contractors inspect your home if you're not watching. Some unscrupulous companies will cause damage to drive up the repair cost, and your insurance company will likely not cover the additional cost.
  • Don't pay the whole repair bill in advance. Pay in full only when the work is completed according to your agreement.

Consumers can file complaints immediately with the Department of Insurance at insurance.mo.gov, or by calling the Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-726-7390.

About the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions & Professional Registration

The Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) is responsible for consumer protection through the regulation of financial industries and professionals. The department's seven divisions work to enforce state regulations both efficiently and effectively while encouraging a competitive environment for industries and professions to ensure consumers have access to quality products.

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