While making a list and checking it twice this holiday season, it may also be a good idea to review insurance policies. Many companies offer open enrollment periods at the end of the year and Bob Hanson, a public information officer for the Kansas Insurance Department, said it may be a good idea to look over both home and auto insurance policies and make sure people are getting the coverage  needed and not paying for something that will not help them in case of an emergency.
For home owners, Hanson said a lot of times people need to make sure they are covered for the cost of replacement of their home versus the cash value of their home. During tornadoes over the last few years, Hanson said people who had older homes with home owners insurance sometimes didn’t get their homes replaced with the original materials because they didn’t have a replacement value policy.
“If you have an older house, you may find that the current coverage is not adequate and you should have a replacement value policy,” said Hanson. “You may find that if something would happen to the house, the policy wouldn’t cover the replacement as you would like it replaced.”
If people are concerned about their auto insurance, Hanson said the Kansas Insurance Department has publications people can access on their Web site, Ksinsurance.org. People can print a copy of their information guides or request to have a copy mailed to them.
The most important thing to look at in car insurance, Hanson said, is premiums. For lower premiums, Hanson said it is good to have a good driving record, but the dollar amount can change depending on the provider, the car make, model, year and even how fuel-efficient your vehicle is. Hanson said they are finding that fuel-efficient cars could have a higher premium than a typical vehicle if they have higher repair costs.
“If you have a Mini Cooper versus a Ford Taurus for example,” said Hanson. “The Mini Cooper will have better gas mileage, but the premium may be higher because of the repair cost on it and the fact that it is a smaller vehicle. I can't say that's true across the board, but you have those factors.”
It pays to be pro-active in taking a look at insurance needs and Hanson said one way people are being pro-active, is by purchasing insurance online. However, Hanson suggested it might be a good idea to talk to a local insurance agent as opposed to a nation-wide insurance company’s agent.
“Talking to a long-time agent or financial planner, if you have a relationship with that person already, is beneficial because you get to have a face-to-face conversation,” said Hanson. “A lot of people do buy online and that is typical anymore, but the face-to-face conversation may provide someone with information they might not receive otherwise. We all pride ourselves on being able to make decisions, but it doesn't hurt to have someone who is an expert take a look at it for you too.”
Andy Elliot, an insurance agent with Elliot Insurance Agency, said the benefits he sees in going to a local insurance agent instead of a nation-wide competitor is the difference between going to your friends house for help as opposed to knocking on a stranger’s door.
“If they have a claim, they talk to someone they know, not someone who doesn't care,” said Elliot. “So it's an advantage to having local services. If there's an accident we can take an ID card out to them, there is no way the other people can do that.”
Some of the big red flags that stick out in Hanson’s mind include buying insurance with some kind of time-limit on it or giving into any kind of pressured situation. Another red flag Hanson said to watch out for is people who have big presentations about why another company’s insurance is inferior to their own.
“You can't be pressured while buying insurance,” said Hanson. “Insurance considerations should be thought out carefully, questioned and looked at in terms of advantages for you. They require consideration that shouldn't be limited in any way.”
Hanson said if people are willing to take a little time out of their day to figure out what it is they need to keep themselves and those they care about safe, it could save them a lot of money in the event of a disaster.
“If you are covered the way you want to be covered, it can make a difference in situations that you don't see coming,” said Hanson. “It’s that ounce of prevention that truly changes lives.”

Sidebar:
Having family talks about insurance matters during holiday get-togethers is great, but follow-up conversations with insurance companies regarding someone in your family will probably require a release form, according to Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger.

Commissioner Praeger said because of privacy issues, those wishing to discuss a relative’s coverage need to have a release form on file with the insurance company. The release form grants authorization for a family member, guardian or conservator to discuss a relative’s policy. It has to be signed by the insured person and must provide the name of the person while will be the authorized representative.

“Helping a loved one by communicating with that person’s insurance company is a thoughtful thing to do,” Commissioner Praeger said, “but it’s important to realize prior authorization to speak on that person’ behalf, either as a relative or a guardian, is an important consumer protection.”

The protection of a person’s health-related insurance information is part of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act, Known as HIPAA. Many companies will have the authorization form online for printing or can make them available by hard copy.

Commissioner Praeger noted that companies are often deluged with calls immediately following the holidays, so waiting for a short while could bring better results.

Those who need assistance with this procedure can also contact the Kansas Insurance Department’s Consumer Assistance Division, 800-432-2484.