Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NY's No-Fault Insurance Needs Reform To Combat Fraud (January 20, 2012)

While car insurance isn’t nearly as costly or vital as health coverage, it is, nonetheless, compulsory in New York State if you own and/or operate a motor vehicle. Kings County has the third highest car insurance rates in the nation, apparently for one reason — insurance fraud.
This week, Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden and the citizen consumer group New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud (NYSAIF) asked the state legislature to once again tackle auto insurance reform in 2012.
In its last session, the legislature failed to pass a measure aimed at combating auto insurance fraud, which is reportedly one of New York’s fastest growing crimes. According to NYSAIF, fraud has cost of more than one billion dollars over the last several years and resulted in New Yorkers paying more than 50 percent higher insurance rates than drivers in other states. It may also be why you can spot an inordinate number of motor vehicles in our community with Pennsylvania plates, where the rates are cheaper. Nevertheless, that may be fraudulent, too, if someone uses a Keystone State address of a friend or relative and does not actually live there for at least six months in any year.
The most recent State Insurance Department data indicates the highest state fraud rates are in Brooklyn and The Bronx, which, of course, sustains the high cost of car insurance.
  NYSAIF maintains that “organized enterprises” stage accidents and, with the help of body shops and crooked doctors, run up phony bills and unnecessary medical expenses that artificially drive up insurance rates. Companies may not have an adequate workforce to thoroughly investigate every claim, so if they pay off for undetected scams by con artists, under New York’s “no fault” law, insurance companies tend to jack up rates for everyone, thereby punishing the innocent along with guilty consumers.
Fraud may involve auto repair shops and mechanics that bill for work never done or parts never used, as well as individuals in crashes or thefts who claim the loss of more property than was actually in a stolen or damaged car or charge for repairs and/or damage that was not due to the latest mishap. Then there are sham injury claims by passengers, not to mention fraudulent bills submitted by dishonest medical providers. There’s also what’s known as a “paper claim,” which involves an accident that never actually happened and is reported with a falsified statement.
Consequently, Brooklyn vehicle owners pay hundreds of dollars more annually on their premiums when auto fraud professionals profit from accidents. Money paid by insurance companies for fraudulent insurance claims adds to its annual losses, a statistic that is largely used to determine future rates.
Clever consumers should shop around for the lowest auto insurance available, but, in Brooklyn, there’s not much chance that even a driver with a spotless record is going to find anything that isn’t out of proportion compared to what relatives and friends pay elsewhere.
For years a few state and federal legislators have talked about cracking down on the car insurance fraud problem, but nothing has been done. Whether or not that ever becomes law may depend on the car insurance lobby’s powerful influence with lawmakers.
In 2010, senior U.S. Senator Charles Schumer introduced legislation that called for federal penalties for insurance fraud and vowed “to tackle the problem head on.” His proposal called for stricter federal penalties for criminals – the participants, organizers and masterminds – involved in auto insurance fraud, including making them responsible for all costs tied to a scam. However, Congress has failed to address the issue thus far.
There’s little doubt that auto insurance companies are being scammed by a few, but if their crimes are discovered, punish the guilty, instead of law abiding citizens who obey the rules, yet still pay higher rates for something which they have no control.
If insurance companies put as much effort and funding into exposing those who rip them off as it does into relentless advertising campaigns, they could perhaps reduce fraud, still earn decent profits and keep rates more reasonable – even for car owners in Brooklyn.
 All the same, state lawmakers can help reduce the costs that make New York the auto insurance fraud capital of America. They have to wake up and smell the scams and create legislation to restructure no-fault insurance that would go a long way to cracking down on fraud.

FCC Rules Should Lower Loud TV Ads (January 6, 2012)

Do you sometimes find yourself fiddling with your remote to adjust the volume when your favorite television program breaks for blaring, irritating commercials? Or do you tune the ads out and head for the bathroom or go looking for sweet or salty snacks?
Thanks to new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, TV advertisers may soon ask the same question as that omnipresent Verizon commercial did a few years back: “Can you hear me now?”
The volume emanating from televisions nationwide should be a little quieter by next Christmas when rules designed to lower the volume of TV commercials are expected to take effect, in an effort to crackdown on what for years has been a nuisance to viewers, as the FCC unanimously approved guidelines that require cable operators and TV stations to quiet louder-than-normal ads.
And the consensus for the majority of TV viewers, especially late and overnight, must certainly be in not-so-hushed tones it’s about time!
The volume of a typical television program, according to audio experts, is about 70 decibels, which is louder than standard conversations. However, as many couch potatoes and occasional viewers have come to realize, the decibels for some TV commercials are about 30 percent higher.
The chairman of the FCC noted that his agency had received more than 6,000 complaints or inquiries about loud commercials since 2008, though, he added, they have since diminished. He also pointed out that the goal is not to impose government interference on private business, but to avoid the abrupt, frustrating increase in the volume during commercial breaks that seems to have risen in the last decade.   
Before last December 13, the FCC could not, by law, regulate the volume of programs or commercials. As a result, broadcasters and program producers had considerable latitude to vary the decibels of broadcast material. Accordingly, it seems TV advertisers prefer loud, louder and loudest while annoying pitchmen hawk a variety of products, such as OxyClean and other telebrands.
In December, the FCC took a major step toward eliminating one of the most persistent complaints of the television age loud commercials. The Commission adopted rules that implement the 2010 Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, in which Congress gave it unprecedented authority to address the problem of excessive commercial loudness.
Surprisingly, there was little backlash from programmers or advertisers since the federal agency softened the blow by giving them a year to make the requisite decibel adjustments.
The rules adopted require that commercials cannot be louder than the average volume of the programs they accompany. More specific rules also establish simple, practical ways for stations and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors, such as satellite companies and cable operators) to demonstrate conformity with the rules. If they fail to give viewers relief from noisy commercials they will be subject to fines.
While the federal agency will perform spot checks to insure regulations are obeyed, it hopes viewers will offer input if they see any violations of the new rules.
The CALM legislation, which passed overwhelmingly two years ago in Congress, will not become effective until December 13, 2012 to give stations and MVPDs sufficient time to be in full compliance. It also gives programmers and networks ample time to provide distributors with guidelines so that the commercials that accompany their programming fully comply with these rules.
A few years ago, I went for a free audio test and discovered I have about a ten percent hearing loss in one ear. I suspected that because I occasionally don’t hear every word in conversations or when I’m watching a television program when characters talk softly. The latter is easy to remedy by turning up the volume a few notches. However, even with my hearing problem, when there’s a break and commercials and promos are telecast, more often than not, I must reduce the volume for ads that are several decibels louder than the program. I find it especially annoying when I’m away from the TV doing something else and must scramble back to adjust the sound.
As far as a hearing aid, I’ve shied away from getting one, due mostly to the cost, not vanity. But I dread the day when I can see someone’s lips moving and can barely detect if they’re asking, “Can you hear me now?” and I can’t.