It’s time for the seasonal flu vaccine!


megaphone with the word "vaccine"

This year, it’s more important than ever that you get your flu vaccine early for seasonal influenza. With Covid-19 still active and a potential resurgence over the fall and winter, you need all the protection you can get. While the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from Covid-19, it will help ensure that hospitals and healthcare providers don’t get overwhelmed by a double whammy, or what some are calling a “twindemic.”

But making it a priority to get a flu vaccine isn’t simply to help preserve precious health care resources for others, it’s also good for protection you. Remember, the seasonal flu can be a killer, claiming thousands of lives each year. Also, health experts think that it is possible to contract seasonal influenza and Covid-19 at the same time, so you want to prevent your own personal “twindemic.” While a vaccine is not an ironclad guarantee that you won’t still get a seasonal bug, flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death. In other words, if you do get a flu, the vaccine will make your illness less severe, and make it less likely you’ll end up in the hospital. This is particularly important for high-risk people and people with underlying health conditions.

This year, health officials recommend getting your vaccines early, ideally in September or October before the flu season starts. But if you miss this time frame, should you still get vaccinated? Health officials say yes, up through January.

Here’s who the CDC recommends get vaccinated:

  • Everyone above the age of 6 months
  • Those who are at a high risk, such as adults over 65 years old and people with underlying medical conditions (cancer, heart disease, asthma – see more)
  • Pregnant women
  • Caretakers exposed to vulnerable groups
  • Healthcare workers and essential workers

Be aware that there are different vaccines recommended for different populations. There are special vaccines for young children, and higher dosage vaccines for adults 65 years old and older. This year, there is one vaccine for seniors that has been updated to protect against four strains of influenza, rather than three as in previous years.
Learn more about which vaccine is most appropriate for you at the CDC.

Where to get flu shots

In the past, many people got flu shots at work, but with the prevalence of remote work during the pandemic, most people will be on their own this year. There are many  places to get a shot, such as pharmacies, clinics and doctors’ offices – and some communities may even set up drive-through flu vaccine sites. Use the Vaccine Finder to find places near you based on the type of vaccine you need. Remember to check if  the facility is walk-in or by appointment and be sure to review any required Covid-19 health procedures and costs. If you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, you’ll probably only need to cover a copay, but if you don’t have insurance, shop around because prices can vary.

Here’s more info and more flu resources:

 

Labor Day: Safe BBQs and backyard entertaining


A flag, a face mask and a Labor Day greeting

As we head into Labor Day and approach the waning weeks of summer, most of us are eager to spend as much time outside as we can. The Mayo Clinic offers a guide to safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor Day is traditionally a time for last minute vacations, road trips, and barbecues. But with coronavirus still a factor, most are opting for quieter events closer to home. If you are planning a small backyard get-together or BBQ, here are a few guides on how to do that safely. We’ve also summarized some tips for both hosts and guest that were suggested by various guides and health experts

Here are a few helpful guides:

Safety tips for backyard gatherings

  • Know your local guidelines about gathering sizes, but all experts agree: smaller is safer – and likely more comfortable for your guests.
  • Check in with invited guests in advance about any concerns they have. Let them know “the rules’ so they feel comfortable and will respect your wishes. For example, rules about social distancing, what they should bring (their own beverages) or shouldn’t bring (shared food dishes, unannounced guests) and any bathroom rules, such as flushing with seat down.
  • Respect boundaries if people decline an invitation. Don’t take things personally.
  • Skip the hugs and handshakes on welcoming guests.
  • Maintain social distancing – measure the space on your deck or your yard in advance to see how many seats can be accommodated 6 feet apart and base guest numbers on that.
  • Keep it outside. Have a plan to postpone if the weather turns bad and keep an eye on the weather.
  • Wear masks when not eating.
  • Wash hands frequently, bring / supply hand sanitizer.
  • BYO beverage, or provide them in individual cans or bottles.
  • Avoid shared plates, utensils, seasonings or condiments – things that people handle repeatedly.
  • Use disposable plates, utensils, napkins and place at each seat.
  • Avoid shared food dishes and plates. Provide individual servings.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch areas like doorknobs and bathrooms before, during and after the party.
  • In bathrooms, provide paper towels, hand soap on the sink, disinfecting wipes.

See our prior post: BBQ Basics: Take the time to review grilling safety tips

Posted in Events

Precious cargo: How to buy, install, and register child car safety seats


mother buckling a smiling baby in a child car safety seat

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for US children aged 3 to 14, yet many of those deaths may be preventable with the proper use of car safety seats. A 2017 study by the CDC published in The Journal of Pediatrics showed that 20% of children who were in a car crash where someone died were not buckled in properly or were not wearing a seat belt at all, as were 43% of children who died themselves.

Buying a child safety or booster seat for your car shouldn’t be a quick or easy purchase if you want to ensure your child’s safety. Do you know the various types of seats and which is appropriate when? Are you choosing the right seat for your child and your vehicle? Is the seat properly installed and is your child properly secured? Do you know when to change/upgrade the seat as your child grows? The Mayo Clinic lists 9 common mistakes parents make when installing and using car seats.

First, know your state law. The Governors Highway Safety Association says that all states and territories require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria, but requirements vary based on age, weight and height. Often, this happens in three stages: infants use rear-facing infant seats; toddlers use forward-facing child safety seats; and older children use booster seats. They offer an overview of state laws.

For help in buying and installing the right seat, we offer several dependable sources you can turn to for research:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Foundation has a great car seat and booster seat guide with various tools to guide you through every stage. A few of the handy tools they offer include:

Safe Kids Worldwide offers the ultimate Car Seat Guide , which offers practical tips to keep kids safe in cars from buying, installing, ensuring a safe fit, and when you should change the seat as your child ages. If you need help installing your car seat or would like a checkup to ensure that it is installed properly, Safe Kids coalitions have car seat checkup events and inspection stations around the country. If there isn’t an event near you, you can search for a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) who can help you.

Consumer Reports also offers excellent Child Car Seat Ratings and Buying Guide, including the video below.

Wirecutter (from the New York Times) also offers consumer shopping guides to find the Best Infant Car Seat and the Best Booster Car Seats. 

The A to Z of insurance terminology


Confused woman in front of a blackboard bewildered woman stressed with headache over decision making. Girl in 20s on blackboard background.
Every industry has their own jargon and set of acronyms used by insiders. Sometimes they are technical terms or language that people use to describe a precise process, a part, or a concept; sometimes, they are slang that develops among colleagues in an organization or an industry over time. But industry-specific terminology can be confusing, misunderstood, or even off-putting to outsiders. Think about the last time you tried to communicate with a car mechanic, a computer tech, or some other specialist  and you couldn’t understand what they were telling you. It can be frustrating!

Insurance is no different. It’s a profession that has a lot of industry-specific terminology related to financial products and a variety of acronyms. Here are a few prior blog posts about some insurance  terms that are frequently used and that customers often question:

But there are many other terms that are likely unfamiliar to a buyer – particularly when you get into commercial insurance. For example, what’s a BOP? An actuary? A captive? Underwriting? Reinsurance? Premium? Loss Ratio?  We could go on, but instead we point you to some good insurance authorities that maintain various glossaries.

  • The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has a handy Glossary of Insurance Terms that are commonly used in the insurance business. The glossary was developed by staff in NAIC’s Research and Actuarial Department based on various insurance references. These definitions represent a common or general use of the term.
  • AM Best’s Consumer Center offers a Glossary of Insurance Terms.
  • International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI) maintains an in-depth Glossary of Insurance and Risk Management Terms, along with a huge list of acronyms
  • California’s insurance department maintains a Glossary of Insurance Terms and it also includes a list of Insurance Terms Used in the Area of Sureties and Bonds and Insurance Terms Used in the Area of Residential Title Insurance.
  • New York’s Department of Financial Services offers a Glossary Of Life Insurance Terms.

Health insurance is a bit of a different matter. with its own distinct language. Here are some resources:

Of course, if you are buying an insurance policy and you find the terminology difficult to understand, there’s an alternative to doing your own online research – you can call your local insurance agent to talk things over. That’s where local agents excel. They can interpret the unfamiliar jargon or talk to you about the pros and cons of various options and decision points. See our prior post that talks about the value, expertise and advocacy services that agents provide 24/7: The value of working with a local, independent insurance agent.

Do traffic tickets jack up your car insurance rates? You bet they do!


traffic tickets - cop on a motorcycle seen through a driver's car mirror

Nobody wants to pay more than they must for auto insurance, but  when bad or risky driving leads to tickets, it can add big bucks to the amount you pay for insurance over several years. Danielle Ling has a story in PropertyCasualty360 about which moving violations raise your car insurance rates the most. Note that these are averages – in some states and with some insurers, costs can be much higher. And these are just the costliest violations. Ling says that even lesser offenses like speeding in a school zone can increase annual rates by more than $300.

Here are some of the costliest violations and the average annual increase

  • Hit & Run – $1,212
  • Racing – $1131
  • DUI – $1100
  • Refusing a breathalyzer – $1080
  • Driving with a suspended license – $1044
  • Reckless driving – $1,038

We’ve written about DUI violations in more detail – a highly dangerous behavior that can be very expensive:

Most states require you to report your DUI to your insurer. A DUI is considered a major violation, like reckless driving or hit-and-run. You will be required to get what’s called an SR-22, a form filed on your behalf by your insurance company which constitutes proof that you are carrying the required amount of liability insurance. It’s also a red flag that you are a high-risk driver. (In Virginia and Florida, the required form is called an FR-44.) There will be a filing fee, usually between $20-$50. Not all insurance companies will file an SR-22. Some insurance companies will not insure high risk drivers, so if yours does not file, you will likely need a new policy with a company that will file the form.

 

Depending on the state in which you live, you will be required to carry SR-22 insurance for three to five years.

After filing an SR-22, brace yourself: your insurance rates are going up. A recent study showed that on average insurance rates increased by more than 56% – a $1000 yearly rate would become $1560 after a first DUI offense.

 

In addition to requiring an SR-22, you may also be required to install (at your expense) an ignition interlock device. The cost to install these devices varies by jurisdiction, but is usually around $175-$300. These devices are basically breathalyzers attached to your vehicle’s starter. They won’t let the car start if they detect alcohol on your breath (the base limit of alcohol allowed varies between jurisdictions, but is almost always “none”). Also, at random times while the vehicle is in motion, the system will require another puff into the analyzer. This “rolling retest” is designed to prevent non-drivers from providing a breath sample and to prevent consumption of alcohol behind the wheel.

See more at our post: DUI Laws, Insurance Rates, and Interlock Devices

Good drivers may be eligible for discounts

It’s important to know that while risky and dangerous driving costs money on your insurance and may even risk suspension or termination of your driving privileges, safe driving can save you money.

Some states and some insurers offer discounts for safe driving or for driver training. In fact, there are a variety of discounts available for other reasons, too, although they vary by state and by insurer. We’ve rounded up many of the most common discounts – see our post Don’t leave money on the table : Talk to your agent about auto insurance discounts.