Ontario: Ford is right, auto insurance is broken

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Mother turns around to her children on the back seat of car

The good news is Premier Doug Ford promised major reforms to Ontario’s broken auto insurance system in last week’s budget.

The bad news is previous governments — including the Liberal one he defeated in June — have attempted such reforms and failed.

Ontario drivers are among the safest in Canada but pay 55% more for auto insurance than the Canadian average, according to a 2017 study — by insurance expert David Marshall — done for the previous government.

As Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said in his budget speech: “It is clear that Ontario’s auto insurance system is broken — and drivers deserve … transformative changes.

Insurers blame the problems mainly on fraud, which Marshall estimated costs them $1.3 billion annually.

But even more money — $1.4 billion, a third of all insurance premium benefits — goes to duelling lawyers and medical experts in court, instead of to treatment for accident victims.

Because of Ontario’s “no fault” auto insurance system, victims often have to sue their own insurance company for benefits.

As the Fair Association of Victims for Accident Insurance Reform (FAIR) notes, this means they have to hire their own lawyers and medical experts to counter their insurance companies’ lawyers and medical experts, eating up billions of dollars that should be spent on treatment.

Auto insurers complain plaintiffs’ lawyers drive up costs by charging outrageous contingency fees, redirecting money for treatment into lawyers’ pockets.

The root problem is our adversarial court system is ill-equipped to deal with these issues.

Ontario needs a system in which credible, independent, objective medical and insurance experts, approved by the province and accepted by both sides at the start of major claims, determine the injuries sustained, appropriate treatment, and costs.

We agree with the Ford government’s decision to restore the maximum benefit for those catastrophically injured in car crashes to $2 million, and it’s intent to increase competition and consumer choice in the auto industry.

That is, with the caveat that allowing insurers to offer customers cheaper insurance packages providing them with less, and often inadequate coverage, while making them pay more if they want to keep their current coverage, is not genuine reform.

Ford’s government seems to be aware of the major problems. Fixing them won’t be easy, but it needs to be done.

Toronto Sun | Postmedia News

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