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Advocacy groups to hold rally protesting very shady industry practices

In response to last week’s advancement of Bill 91, Building Ontario Up Act, two advocacy groups are organizing a public protest to be held on June 3rd at Queen’s Park, Toronto called #Rally4AccidentVictims.
 
FAIR Association of Victims for Accident Insurance Reform and the Accident Benefit Coalition are not just protesting provincial government, however.
 
The groups feel that insurance companies also unfairly benefit from the legislation, and allege that provincial government’s proposals to reduce coverage for the catastrophically injured is uncalled for, given the industry’s profit margins.
 
“It is unacceptable to be giving away money to wealthy insurance companies who are already using some very shady business practices to deny a record number of claims,” reads a release from FAIR.
 
Among these practices, FAIR contends, are insurance companies employing “for-hire physicians who provide insurers with the medical reports used to decide whether or not an injured claimant is entitled to treatment and benefits.”
 
In addition, the non-profit association alleges that this arrangement allows insurance companies to place severely injured victims in numerous social services programs, forcing taxpayers to cover their expenses instead of insurance payouts.
 
“Our government is giving insurers a financial gift by allowing insurers to pay injured victims less and simultaneously download the cost of victims to the unsuspecting taxpayers who are the same drivers looking for a break on insurance premiums,” FAIR said.
 
The groups are also calling for supporters to sign an online petition.

Spread the Word

The proposed accident benefit cuts are a very bad accident waiting to happen. Now is the time to speak up. Accident victims are holding a Queen’s Park rally Wednesday June 3, Noon – 1:30 pm to voice concerns over the proposed cuts to accident benefits and tell their stories. Attend if you can, spread the word and sign the petition. Follow this link for more information on both http://www.neuroconnect.ca/

Ontario auto insurance changes slash benefits to seriously injured, critics say

CBC News

Critics say the Ontario Liberal government's proposed auto insurance changes mean people suffering debilitating injuries from car accidents are going to suffer even more.

Namely, it would allow companies to slash benefits to those who are seriously injured from car accidents.

A coalition made up of the Personal Injury Alliance, the Brain Injury Society of Toronto, the Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and individual victims held a press conference at Queen's Park Thursday afternoon to appeal for a stop to auto insurance changes.

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“Even with the existing system, it's entirely inadequate and we're constantly telling our catastrophically injured people that they're going to have to do without because there's not enough money in the system,” said the Personal Injury Alliance's Troy Lehman.

“It's devastating news to have to break and if these changes go through, it's going to be twice as bad because half of the money for medical rehabilitation and care would disappear,” he said.

When it comes to catastrophic accidents, the Liberals proposed in the spring budget to combine services (such as attendant care and rehabilitation) to a single benefit with a limit of $1 million, down from a combined $2-million limit today. Drivers have the option to pay more for coverage up to $2 million.

The time to claim those benefits would also be cut in half — five years instead of the current 10.

There are also tweaks to basic auto insurance benefits. The government will combine medical and rehabilitation benefits with attendant care services as a single benefit set at $65,000. These separate benefits used to total more than $80,000. However, drivers will still be able to pay for increased coverage to a total of $1 million.
Ontario Liberals won't budge

These changes are part of an effort by the Liberals to reduce the costs of auto insurance to “bring these costs more in line with other provinces,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said when the budget was tabled.

The Brain Injury Society of Toronto say the proposed changes will cost taxpayers more. If the bill is passed, the society says “the insurance industry will save money and increase profits.”

“I also have no doubt that those who are injured will go without, families will shoulder the burden alone, and our [publicly-funded] healthcare system will pick up the tab,” chairwoman Judy Moir said on Thursday.

But the finance minister said the government won't budge on the changes.

“The catastrophic insurance coverage is going to remain. It's going to be at a million dollars. We want our dispute resolutions to be expedited more quickly so that those that are victims get the coverage that they deserve,” he said.

“In fact, catastrophic insurance, period, is still going to be available in Ontario — not available anywhere else — and we're making it a million dollars, which is a substantive amount of coverage.”

How Much Have Ontario No-Fault Accident Benefits Been Eroding?

The recently announced auto insurance reforms included in the 2015 Ontario Budget will again reduce accident benefits as part of the government's efforts to reduce premiums in Ontario.  The government insists that benefits available are still generous.  I decided to compare the accident benefits available prior to the OMPP (Schedule C) under tort and the OMPP accident benefits with the new proposed limits announced in the Budget.  I used the Bank of Canada inflation calculator to convert past benefits into 2015 dollars.

The Schedule C accident benefits existed under the tort system prior to the introduction of no-fault.  Compensation was quite limited.  Income replacement benefits were available for 104 weeks, caregiver benefits for 12 weeks and medical benefits for 4 years.  The benefits aren't quite analogous but when converted into 2015 dollars, it tells an interesting story. Keep in mind there was no second tier of benefits under Schedule C for catastrophic injuries.  Those not at-fault would need to start an action to access additional compensation.

The table below shows that the Schedule C benefits are not that far off from the benefit levels announced in the Budget.  Not only are benefits being cut but inflation has also eroded them.

    pre-OMPP    pre-OMPP     2015 Budget
    (1989 $)    (2015 $)     
IRB     $140.00/week     $240.24/week     $400.00/week
caregivers     $70.00/week     $120.12/week     N/A*
non-earners     N/A     N/A     $185.00/week
medical/rehab     $25,000.00     $42,900.82     $65,000.00
medical/rehab (cat)     $25,000.00     $42,990.82     $1,000,000.00
attendant care     N/A     N/A     N/A**
           
* caregiver benefit currently only available for catastrophic injuries     
** attendant care included in medical/rehabilitation cap     

The indexed OMPP numbers are also revealing.  The table below shows that the accident benefits proposed in the recent provincial budget are, in some cases, less generous than the OMPP accident benefits even before adjusting for inflation.  Even those with catastrophic injuries are likely better off under the OMPP even though there was no higher tier of accident benefits available.  The OMPP provided all claimants with up to $1 million in combined medical, rehabilitation and attendant care benefits.  In 2015 dollars that works out to approximately $1.6 million in benefits.

    OMPP    OMPP     2015 Budget
    (1990 $)    (2015 $)     
IRB     $600.00/week     $977.81/week     $400.00/week
caregivers     $250.00/week     $407.42/week     N/A*
non-earners     $185.00/week     $301.49/week     $185.00/week
medical/rehab     $500,000.00     $814,838.71     $65,000.00
med/rehab (cat)     $500,000.00     $814,838.71     $1,000,000.00
attendant care     $500,000.00     $814,838.71     N/A**
           
* caregiver benefit currently only available for catastrophic injuries
** attendant care included in medical/rehabilitation cap     

From http://williehandler.blogspot.ca/

Ontario budget 2015: the divisive industry reactions

The liberal Ontario government has published its 2015-16 budget, and several elements of the plan impact the insurance industry and its client base.
 
For one, the government has renewed its commitment to lowering auto insurance premiums by 15%, which it intends do accomplish by raising deductibles from $300 to $500, as well as lowering maximum interest rates and forbidding increases on premiums because of “minor, at-fault” accidents.
 
In addition, Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced that insurance companies will be required to offer discounts for drivers who install snow tires on their vehicles.
 
Because of these measures, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) feels that the budget is a step in the right direction for the province’s drivers.
 
“It's clear that the government recognized that the auto insurance product needed reforms to work better for consumers,” Ralph Palumbo, Vice-President, Ontario, IBC, said in a statement. “These reforms will remove excessive costs and this will result ultimately in lower premiums for Ontario's 9.4 million drivers. This shows, once again, the Ontario government's leadership and commitment to consumers.”
 
At least one insurance company echoes this positive sentiment. Unica Insurance Inc. applauded the Government of Ontario for its efforts to help keeps motorists safe during the winter months.
 
“We strongly believe in providing Canadians with products that will not only provide them with the protection they require, but at a price that delivers good value,” said Martin Delage, President and COO of Unica Insurance. “The Government of Ontario's budget announcement related to an insurance discount on winter tires directly aligns with this.”
 
Unica currently offers a 10% discount for consumers who make use snow tires on their vehicles, but it is unclear what price reduction will be mandated by the budget.
 
Finally, the 2015 budget makes dramatic changes to what is included in auto coverage. Whereas medical and rehabilitation benefits used to exceed $80,000, it now rests at $65,000. In addition, catastrophic incident benefits now face a limit of $1 million, reduced from $2 million.
 
Some advocacy groups have expressed outrage over these cuts.
 
“Our government, under the guise of protecting victims, is proposing to cut over a $1 million dollars in coverage for the most seriously injured among us while pretending that they are fiscally responsible,” said Rhona Desroches, FAIR Board Chair. “You don’t have to be an accountant to see that the government is doing the industry a big financial favour and doing it on the backs of some of the most disabled individuals in Ontario. It’s a disgusting and unacceptable way to treat these vulnerable individuals.”
 
In addition, FAIR disagrees with the impending changes to what constitutes a “catastrophic impairment,” and feels that this will further exacerbate the conflicts of interest that exist with the CAT panel.
 
“At one point only 75% of that Panel agreed that paraplegia or quadriplegia was a catastrophic injury,” Desroches said. “Now the potential that the industry will separate mental and physical injuries as if they were unrelated is another danger for injured victims and this too will lead to increased court challenges.”
 
FAIR is not the only critic of Sousa’s budget. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has also been vocal about her opposition, and she similarly argues that the Liberals’ supposed reforms will only serve to benefit insurance companies, not consumers.
 
“It never trickles down to the drivers,” she told the CBC.

From http://www.insurancebusiness.ca

Ontario to reduce mandatory auto accident benefits, update catastrophic impairment definition

By: Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor
2015-04-23

The Ontario government does not plan to mandate further cuts in private passenger auto premiums, but the ruling Liberals do plan to change the Insurance Act to reduce the total mandatory coverage, in the standard auto policy, for medical and rehabilitation benefits and to change the definition of catastrophic impairment.

The government will change the standard benefit level under the province’s mandatory auto coverage to $65,000

Finance Minister Charles Sousa released Thursday the budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, announcing the government will “change the standard benefit level” under the province's mandatory auto coverage, to $65,000 and to “include attendant care services under this benefit limit.”

Since 2010, Ontario's standard auto policy has provided for $50,000 for medical and rehab benefits and $36,000 for attendant care. Those amounts are half the mandatory coverage required prior to 2010.

In Thursday's budget documents, the government announced that for catastrophic injuries, the mandatory coverage of $1 million will in the future include attendant care and medical and rehabilitation benefits. Currently, claimants with catastrophic injuries have $1 million in attendant care benefits and $1 million in medical and rehab benefits.

Read more – Ontario to create administrative bodies for mandatory workplace pension plan, condo manager licensing

“Ontario is certainly one of the highest cost jurisdictions in North America for auto insurance claims,” Sousa said in a press conference before he tabled the budget. “In fact, we are the only province that provides catastrophic coverage, which is expensive so we are going to continue doing that. We are modifying it somewhat.”

The government “will amend Insurance Act to update the catastrophic impairment definition consistent with more up to date medical information and knowledge,” the Liberals say in their budget document, adding they will “continue to ensure, where possible, that insurance coverages reflect the most relevant scientific and medical knowledge on identifying and treating injuries from automobile accidents.

In August, 2013, the province passed the Ontario Automobile Insurance Rate Stabilization Act (AIRSA), establishing an “industry-wide target reduction,” by 15% over two years, of the average private passenger auto premium. Since then, Ontario insurers have been required to “propose rates and a risk classification system that contribute adequately to the achievement of” that 15% target.

“We have now reduced them by over 7%,” Sousa said Thursday. “We are halfway there.”

Sousa made his remarks in a press conference near Queen's Park, where reporters were given copies of the budget in the morning and locked up until he started his speech in the legislature. Sousa told reporters the measures announced in the budget are “part of our strategy to reduce rates to get to the 15%.”

Another measure announced Thursday is a plan to mandate discounts for winter tires, but he did not say what that discount would be.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa

“We are looking for the insurance companies to give at least 15% discounts right across and that's the goal we are trying to achieve,” Sousa (pictured right) said in reply to a reporter asking what the mandated winter tire discount would be. “Winter tires will help supplement that as will the telematics boxes if they wish to proceed with that.”

The announcements got no praise from opposition leaders who addressed reporters.

Vic Fedeli, the Progressive Conservative finance critic, alluded to the fact that in 2013, the Liberals – who then had a minority government – promised to mandate a 15% auto rate reduction in return for the NDP voting in favour of the 2013-14 budget. Had neither the NDP nor the PCs supported the 2013-14 budget, the minority government would have fallen.

The NDP “were bought off essentially,” Fedeli said during his press conference Thursday before Sousa tabled the budget. “There was no business plan. There was no go-forward plan so you start off with a bad premise like that and it's no surprise that, come August, we won't see insurance rates reduced 15%.”

NDP leader Andrea Horwath suggested consumers will not benefit from the Liberals' efforts to cut claims costs.

“If you are talking to the insurance industry, they are going to try to paint it in a way that looks like they are really struggling,” she told reporters in the media lockup. “I don't think anybody in this room believes that for a minute and I certainly don't.”

She did acknowledge that some individual insurers lose money on Ontario auto.

“Is there the odd insurance company that doesn't do a good business? Absolutely, that happens in every type of business that we have,” Horwath said during the press conference. “Some are good at what they do and some are not. But overall, as a whole, Ontarians are paying far too much for their insurance.”

In 2010 – in addition to reducing mandatory coverage for medical, rehab and attendant care coverage – the Ontario government also reduced mandatory income replacement coverage and introduced a $3,500 cap for injuries that fall under the minor injury guideline. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported earlier the industry lost $1.7 billion on Ontario auto in 2010.

“In 2010 the government made changes to the policies around insurance and all that did, instead of creating an opportunity for reductions, is it created an opportunity for insurance companies to pocket more money,” Horwath told reporters Thursday. “The government talks about anti-fraud measures, they talk about winter tires and they talk about all of these other initiatives and the issue that we have is that no matter what initiative the Liberals tend to put in place, the first people to get their fingers into that savings opportunity is the insurance industry. It never trickles down to the drivers, yet that's the theory as to why these changes are being made.”

From The http://www.canadianunderwriter.ca

Ontario’s 2015 Budget Injures the Injured

The 2015 Budget is very bad news for those injured in auto accidents. The Ontario Rehab Alliance is profoundly disappointed and worried by the proposed changes to standard Auto Insurance Benefits.

While we understand the pressure this government faces to reduce premiums, we worry about the future wellbeing of the 65,000 fellow Ontarians who are injured in motor vehicle crashes every year.  We regretfully believe that the latest policy direction will have a devastating effect on the most severely injured and their families.  Based on the budget announcement, we will undoubtedly see fellow Ontarians whose horrific crashes resulted in quadriplegia, severe brain injuries and amputations live the rest of their lives with little to no dignity.  The future of their children, wives, husbands or parents will be forever changed as they have to rededicate their lives to becoming full time caregivers in light of deep cuts to the benefits.

Whose money is saved by these cuts?

Not drivers. Even if (and that’s a big ‘if’) the cuts lead to slightly lower premiums, seriously injured drivers and their passengers will find themselves unable to get the help they need to recover and return to work and earn an income. They will have to use their own money – if they have any – to pay for rehab services over and above what their insurance covers to try to get their lives back as best as possible.

Not taxpayers. We will all pay the price of the increased burden on health and social services.

Insurers’ will benefit. Their profits from auto insurance will increase in proportion to the savings made at the expense of those they are meant to be insuring.