Seasonal and H1N1 flu seasons begin: stay informed

Here in Massachusetts, today’s local news headlines tell us that swine flu has infected 20,000 in the state since the virus first surfaced five months ago, with 11 associated deaths. Public health officials in Massachusetts say they are expecting the first doses of swine flu vaccine to arrive within about two weeks, and will be distributed to people at highest risk from the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), in any given year, about 5% to 20% of U.S. residents will get seasonal influenza (or “flu”) each year. This year, in addition to the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu virus (also called the Swine flu) is expected to have a second wave over the next few months. The CDC discusses those who are at risk:

In seasonal flu, certain people are at “high risk” of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70% of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.
One thing that appears to be different from seasonal influenza is that adults older than 64 years do not yet appear to be at increased risk of 2009 H1N1-related complications thus far.

Most people who contract either the seasonal or the H1N1 flu will recover within a few or a few weeks at most, but some people develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. The CDC states that about 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, and more than 36,000 die.
For prevention, the CDC suggests:

  • Stay informed
  • Cough or sneeze into tissues, and then discard tissues
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Stay home if you are sick

Flu resources:
Seasonal flu shot locator is a good source of information where you can get updated information. It includes information for individuals & families as well as for businesses, community planners & professionals.
H1N1 Flu information from the CDC. The CDC also posts flu updates of U.S. influenza activity based on key indicators, such as the number of doctor visits and hospitalization rates.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) encourages consumers to include a flu response plan in their disaster preparations this year and offers tips for getting your insurance matters in hand.

September 26: National “Safety Saturday”

October is National Fire Safety Month. To kick things off, the Home Safety Council (HSC) is teaming up with Lowe’s to hold Safety Saturday on Saturday, September 26, 2009, a day-long safety celebration.
Lowe’s stores nationwide are planning family safety activities geared to educating you and your family on how to keep safe from fire and other home dangers. Some stores are partnering with local fire departments to host a side-by-side burn demonstration to show how quickly a home fire spreads and becomes deadly when it isn’t controlled. The demonstration compares the limited damage in a room that is protected with a home fire sprinkler system with the extensive damage that occurs in a room without a sprinkler.
Even if you can’t attend one of these events, the idea of dedicating a Saturday to making your home safer is a pretty good one. According to the HSC, the home is the second most common location of unintentional fatal injuries, with moving motor being the first. About 20% of all fatal injuries occur in the home. The top five leading causes of unintentional home injury death are falls, poisoning, fire/burn, choking/suffocation, and drowning; together these account for 90% of all unintentional home injury deaths. And for every one death, there are approximately 650 nonfatal injuries. HSC says that children under age 5 and adults over age 70 are the highest risk groups for home injury, both fatal and nonfatal.
HSC offers excellent Step-by-step Safety Guides on a variety of topics to help you safety-proof your home. They also offer a library of Safety videos for kids and adults.

What are the odds? Mortality calculators

Given that it’s Life Insurance Awareness Month, we thought we might offer a few tools for you to assess your risk of imminent mortality. We’ve mixed the serious with the silly to lighten things up a bit.

Heart Disease Risk Calculator – estimate your chance of a cardiac event or a stroke in the next 10 years.

Are you likely to die of a shark attack? Compare the relative risk of shark attacks to humans to various other risks.

Life Expectancy Table – find your age and your sex to learn the additional number of years you may expect to live.

The Death Clock bills itself as “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away… second by second.” Enter your date of birth, sex, bmi and smoking status. You can choose to your results on a scale ranging from “sadistic” to “optimistic” – or just plain “normal.”

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month

Do you have family members who depend on your income? The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) tells us that September is “Life Insurance Awareness Month” and reminds us that lifestyle choices and factors can have an impact on the availability and cost of insurance coverage. “The cost of an individual health or life insurance policy takes into account your age, height, weight, medical history, occupation, driving record, your family health history and other personal habits like smoking.” Insurance companies also take high risk activities such as mountain climbing, horseback riding, motorcycle riding, flying, or hang-gliding into consideration.
NAIC provides an overview of the information an insurance company will typically request on a life or health insurance application, along with an overview of the underwriting process and some tips on what you should do if you are denied coverage. Also see NAIC’s Life Insurance Buyer’s Guide (PDF).
Additional information:
Buying Life Insurance and Annuities in Massachusetts – from the MA Office of Consumer Affairs
Life Insurance – info from the CT Insurance Department
Annuities and Life Insurance – from the NH Insurance Department
The Facts of Life and Annuities (PDF) – from LIMRA International, Inc. (Life Insurance and Market Research Association)

Are you an “accidental landlord” or a “reluctant landlord?”

One byproduct of the difficult economy is an increase in the number of reluctant landlords. Many homeowners have been forced to relocate for jobs or other reasons but they can’t sell their first house so they rent it out. Others are holding on to their house, reluctant to sell at a low and take a loss – so they are trying to wait out the market by renting their first home. It’s difficult to know how widespread this practice is, but one gauge is that some insurers are reporting a recent spike of 25% or more in demand for landlord insurance.
While individual circumstances vary and there are times when it makes sense to rent a home, experts advise caution. Waiting out the market can be a chancy proposition because it may take years for the market to sufficiently appreciate. Meanwhile, there are a variety of additional expenses and responsibilities that a property owner must assume: taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and property management, to name but a few. It can be difficult to charge enough in rent to recoup the expenses. Plus, renting for a number of years can eliminate or diminish the value of capital-gains tax exclusions.
If you are trying to make a decision about selling at a loss or renting your property, be sure to read the article’s comments where several readers share their experiences of being landlords. The author also offers useful tips and resources about renting your house in a sidebar to the article.
Don’t forget landlord insurance
If you suddenly find yourself an accidental landlord, make sure that you are properly insured. The Insurance Information Institute notes that landlord Insurance generally costs about 25% more than a standard homeowners policy, but the price may fluctuate based on a number of variables: what state your property is in, the condition and location of your property, what type of property it is (condo, single home or multi-dweller unit, for example) and the level of coverage that you require. Insurance Journal talks about what landlord insurance does and doesn’t cover:

“These policies typically cover the building in case it’s damaged or destroyed by fire, lightning, wind, hail, cars or collapse from ice, snow or sleet. they also cover the landlord’s personal property used by the tenant or used to maintain the house. This could include appliances and landscaping machinery like snow blowers and lawnmowers.”

…and another important area of coverage:

“… the coverage helps protect landlords from liability if someone gets hurt on their property. Some policies also pay for some or all of legal expenses. It also will pay for some or all the medical expenses for people injured on the property if the landlord is found responsible.
Unlike a homeowner’s policy, the landlord policy also will compensate for lost rent if the building is uninhabitable because of damage that is covered by the insurance. This is a big deal for a landlord who relies solely on that income, especially if a building is under repairs for a long time. ”

Talk with your agent about exactly what a policy would and wouldn’t include. Some of the variables that will affect the price and that you will want to talk over with your agent are deductible limits (how much you pay out of pocket in the event of a loss before the insurance kicks in) and whether your coverage is for replacement value or cash value of any losses. You may want to supplement a basic policy with extra coverage options for things that are not included, such as coverage for floods or additional liability coverage. You’ll also want to look into any discounts that might be available – these can vary from insurer to insurer. Some possible discounts include reductions for packaging multiple policies with one insurer or discounts for having security or protective devices on your property.