Flu Vaccines 2011 are already out of the Gate

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Even though it’s only July and we still have 2-3 months before the flu season gets cracking, drug companies and government agencies have been hard at work preparing the vaccines. Some manufacturers are even distributing the vaccines early in an attempt to avoid crippling shortages later in the season.

2011’s flu shots will provide the standard cocktail of protection spreading across a wide range of influenza A and B, which includes the infamous H1N1 strain, known to the pandemic-frightened 2009 world as “Swine Flu.”

(People I know actually made t-shirts that proudly stated ‘I survived the Swine ‘09’).

A quick medical lesson: the premise behind vaccination is that by exposing yourself to a small, innocuous sample of a virus, your body builds antibodies that quickly tackle the small infection. These antibodies are then already in the bloodstream when the bigger, badder version of the flu hits, and your immune system can fight it off without you getting sick.

While vaccination is commonly regarded as the most significant advance in medical history, the immunity for flu shots only lasts long enough to get you through flu season.

That means that if you were vaccinated last year, you should make an effort to be vaccinated again. The CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone six months or older. Different versions of the vaccine have been developed for different age groups.

Here are some things you can do to stay healthy for the 2011 flu season:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often, especially before each meal. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) while out in public areas.
  • Get a yearly flu vaccine – this is especially important or the very young and the elderly, who are at risk for more severe flu complications.
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House passes major Flood Insurance legislation: most coastal flood rates to increase, broader coverage options coming!

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On July 12, 2011 the House of Representatives passed a bill (HR 1309) that will fundamentally change the National Flood Insurance Program, the public’s main outlet for flood insurance.  The bill passed by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 402 to 22.  An amendment to close the whole program was roundly defeated.  Senate passage is expected, though when is uncertain.

The existing program was in trouble.  Congress missed four reauthorization deadlines last year, meaning the program lapsed four times for several days at a time, creating havoc in the real estate and insurance markets.  In addition, a lingering debt of $18 billion remains on the books from 2005 (mostly Hurricane Katrina); a hurricane in any metropolitan area in Florida or the Gulf could double that loss in a weekend.  The 112th Congress is less inclined to accept these kinds of unpredictable expenses, and the bill seems to reflect this change in attitude.

The National Flood insurance program has been around for decades and today is the primary vehicle for providing insurance for about 5.5 million property owners around the country.  Locally, many homes from Quincy to Plymouth and hundreds more on the Cape have been rebuilt with NFIP insurance.

Conceptually the National Flood Insurance Program makes sense: private insurers are reluctant to insure against losses that are geographically concentrated because of an insurance concept known as ‘spread of risk’.  A single company can’t accept such concentrated risk without putting its own balance sheet on the line.  The national government can spread risk better: they collect premiums for spring river overflows in the Midwest, winter nor’easters in New England, and fall hurricanes in the Gulf.  The problem is that the current rates are not developed with the same detail as private insurers need when trying to make a profit.  To wit, in 2006, the year after over $17 billion in losses, NFIP rates actually went down.  This pricing failure leads to a problem known as ‘adverse selection’: flood insurance is a great deal if you’re really near the water; it’s not a great deal if you’re only mildly exposed to flood waters.  Thus, the people at the greatest risk get the best (most subsidized) deal.  This is not a formula for long term survival, or even a break-even program.  Consider the findings of a 2006 Congressional Research Service study: the program operated at a loss for 19 of the previous 34 years.  This spring’s midwestern floods likely contributed to pressure for overhaul.  In its existing form, it is truly another disaster waiting to happen.

The program has also been criticized for promoting development in environmentally sensitive coastal areas.  While coastal development was seen as a positive thing 40-50 years ago, today many voters prefer to see remaining undeveloped coastal land and wetlands set aside for conservation.

In the bill passed by the House, rates will be transitioned gradually to risk based premiums.  Many properties with multiple claims will see lower subsidies, and in some cases, insurance may be refused altogether.  During the transition phase, annual premium increases, previously limited to 10% per year, will be capped at 20% per year.  Other features include minimum $2,000 deductibles on subsidized rate properties, and $1,000 deductibles on risk rated properties.  The bill also established a ‘Technical Mapping Advisory Council’ to develop new mapping standards.  In short, the NFIP is transitioning in a direction toward the way for-profit companies measure and charge for risk.

Because of the transition to risk based pricing, some new options will become available: annual increases indexed to inflation, and additional living expenses common with homeowners insurance.  Business income loss will be offered for business properties.  Importantly, the bill reauthorizes the program through 2016, which will provide a measure of certainty severely lacking in previous years.

The bill’s author, U.S. Representative Judy Biggert, R-Ill., said after the vote, this “eliminates barriers to the development of a private flood insurance market, and helps take taxpayers out of the risk business. The NFIP is too important to let lapse, and too in debt to continue without reform. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to speed this legislation to the President’s desk.”  Locally, Congressman Bill Keating of the 10th Congressional district and Stephen Lynch of the 9th, both voted for the bill.  More detailed summaries of the bill are available at thomas.gov site linked here.

For most homeowners along the coast, this will mean higher flood insurance costs beginning this fall.  There are still steps homeowners can take to reduce costs, and to control what kind of insurance you need to buy. Those steps include:

  • Know what zone you are in; if you buy insurance before your local flood map changes, you should be grandfathered to the existing zone. View FEMA’s map pages here
  • If you are in a n A, B, or X zone, getting an Elevation Certificate from a qualified engineer may help you especially if you are on or near the border of a lower rated zone (Your home might be in a better place than the map says).
  • For more about coastal insurance for your home, visit www.agordon.com/home.
    Consider mitigation practices such as those recommended by FEMA and other construction experts.

The bill had broad support from insurance companies and agency groups for improving the predictability and sustainability of the program’s future.   For more about what you can do to contain the cost of insuring property along the coast, visit www.agordon.com/home for more.

Geoff Gordon

The top 10 cheapest and most expensive 2011 cars to insure

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A new year means many things for car buyers; new safety ratings, new models, and new costs. Another aspect of a car search to consider is the cost of Auto insurance; preferably before Royce rolls his brand new auto from the lot.

Fortunately, Insure.com has done the world a great service by ranking the most expensive and least expensive cars to insure. Most of the cars on these lists will come as no surprise to you, but nonetheless good information to have before you adventurously strike out to haggle with the peddlers of the automobile world.

Least Expensive (2011)(Cheapest first)

  1. Chrysler Town and Country LX
  2. Toyota Sienna
  3. Toyota Sienna LE
  4. Honda Odyssey LX
  5. Nissan Murano
  6. Jeep Wrangler
  7. Honda Odyssey EX
  8. Toyota Sienna
  9. Ford Escape
  10. Toyota Highlander
Most Expensive (2011)(Most expensive first)

  1. Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
  2. BMW 750i
  3. BMW 750Li
  4. Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
  5. Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG
  6. Aston Martin DB9
  7. Mercedes-Benz CL600
  8. Porsche 911 Carrera S
  9. Aston Martin DB9 Volante
  10. Mercedes-Benz G55 AMG

It’s important to note that the car you drive is NOT the only factor that affects your auto insurance rates. Several other factors, including age, gender, area of residence, and annual mileage also play a part in determining the number at the bottom of your car insurance bill. We’ve also written about how each of these affects your insurance, if you’re interested.

As for the car itself, there are reasons that some cost more to insure than others. This is due to safety ratings, top speed, anti-theft devices, and cost. It makes sense that a fast, poorly protected car will be the apple of a thief’s eye and therefore cost more to insure.

Performance: what can this baby do on the highway?

If your car’s engine could power a third world village, your insurance is going to be higher. Insurance companies have to assume that high performance cars are bought for just that reason: to drive fast and practice risky driving behaviors. If you want to keep your insurance low, stay away from performance vehicles.

Foreign Cars:

If your dream car has parts from obscure companies and/or locations, beware. Should you get into an accident (even a minor fender bender), the replacement parts will be much more costly than high supply auto parts. That factors into your insurance cost; in fact, it may factor in even more in the future if gas (and thus shipping) prices continue to rise.

Bigger is not always better:

First and foremost: YOU ARE NOT NECESSARILY SAFER IN A BIGGER CAR. There are many large trucks and SUVs that have inherent safety flaws.  Consult crash test reviews and data before you commit to a larger car. However, even if safer, SUVs are not necessarily the best way to obtain low car insurance. Big cars tend to have a higher liability coverage rate because they do more damage to other cars in accidents.

Consider a ‘family car’:

Remember the ‘high performance, high insurance’ paragraph? Well the converse is also true. Cars associated with ‘routine, safe’ driving behavior are going to cost you less. These are the cars that many think of as ‘family vehicles’: minivans, station wagons, and family sedans. This is due to the fact that ‘family vehicles’ are statistically involved in fewer crashes than other types of cars; therefore, they will cost you less to insure.

 Remember:  insurance companies play a game of numbers; if your car is going to cost more to replace, then you’re going to pay more for it.  With that in mind, go forth and buy the right car for you and your insurer.

And, of course, if you find yourself in an auto insurance pinch, look to Gordon Insurance: we provide both a wealth of information on our website and would be happy to place you with the right insurance agency for you.

Memories

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Remember when:

  • It took 2 minutes for the TV to warm up
  • Your dad made all the decisions
  • Your windshield was cleaned, radiator & oil checked and gas served, without asking, all for free, each & every time
  •  Car keys were always ‘stored’ in the ignition
  • Hula hoops, Jacks & Pick up sticks
  • Penny candy that cost a penny
  • Home milk delivery in glass bottles
  • 33’s & 45’s played on Hi Fi record players
  • Adding machines, mimeograph machines &  typewriters
  • Water balloon fights
  • A neighbor’s new car was the talk of the neighborhood
  • Chinese food was an occasional treat
  • Suits, ties, hats, dresses & gloves were worn to church and on airplanes
  • Bundle boys carried your groceries to your car
  • Sen Sen
  • Brill Cream-  “ A little dab will do ya”
  • Scooter pies
  • Kerosene smudge pots used as highway flares
  • Car tires had inner tubes
  • Wallpaper was hung with wheat paste and every room was wallpapered.
  • All barbeque grills used briquettes
  • Stores and malls were closed on Sundays
  • You had to manually defrost your freezer
  • Polaroid instant cameras
  • The Ivory Soap twins
  • “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should”
  • Pepsi Cola hits the spot, 10 full ounces, that’s a lot!Remember the slogan, “Your Independent Insurance Agent serves you first”? At A. Gordon Insurance, times haven’t changed. Our friendly staff at A. Gordon Insurance continues to put you first!


Risk in Perspective: Insight and Humor in the Age of Risk Management