Ontarians strongly opposed to reduction in auto insurance benefits;
Government risks negative public reaction; Other options to holding down
rates and still protecting people

TORONTO, Oct. 20 /CNW/ - A new public opinion poll released today shows that Ontario motorists want auto insurance that provides them with adequate health-related coverage in the event they are seriously injured in a crash. Insurance that provides a lower level of benefits is considered a bad idea by most.

"The provincial government claims that the most important issue for Ontarians is the cost of insurance. But according to our survey, this is clearly not the case," says Nick Gurevich of the Alliance of Community Medical and Rehabilitation Providers (ACMRP). "Protection is just as important to people as affordability."

Conducted by Harris/Decima, the poll found that 88% consider adequate benefits to be somewhat or very important, compared to 91% who believe the cost of insurance is somewhat or very important. Statistically, there is little difference.

Asked what the province's primary responsibility is with respect to auto insurance, 58% of respondents said it is ensuring an adequate level of protection for drivers, while only 32% said it is ensuring premiums are affordable.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is currently considering a proposal, backed by the insurance industry, which would slash mandatory medical and rehabilitation benefits from $100,000 to $25,000.

The survey suggests that the government will face negative public reaction if it adopts this recommendation. Those who think the introduction of a stripped-down version of auto insurance is a 'bad idea' outnumber those who think it is a 'good idea' by almost a 2-to-1 margin.

Minister Duncan was supposed to usher in changes to auto insurance last June. Ontario motorists are still waiting.

"The Minister was presented with a losing proposition. He was given the choice of either reducing costs for insurance companies by slashing benefits, or allowing these companies to significantly raise premiums," notes Gurevich. "But this does not have to be an 'either or' issue. There are other options that will help hold down rates and protect Ontarians."

The Alliance proposes that the insurance industry, health providers and clinics, backed by the government, work together to eliminate fraud. "We need to shut down those who are scamming the system. We need to put an end to unnecessary assessments and unrealistic treatment plans," states Gurevich.

There are mechanisms to address fraud, including the health regulatory bodies in cases of professional misconduct and criminal investigations by the appropriate authorities. For example, there have been numerous stings by FBI and Fraud Prevention units in the U.S. which shut down scores of clinics and successfully prosecuted clients that were abusing the system. The result there has been a decrease in auto insurance premiums.

"All of us have to be more aggressive in doing everything we can to weed out the unscrupulous operators," says Gurevich. "But the insurance companies also have a duty to look at their own practices. When they automatically deny claims, the result is more assessments and spiraling costs."

Another way to drive costs out of the system would be to provide treatment for minor soft tissue injuries and uncomplicated fractures in a different way. Treatment could be provided automatically below a certain claim amount without the need for assessments or insurance company transaction costs.

But the Alliance notes that reducing mandatory benefits to $25,000 for all accident victims will not solve the abuse problem. Most of the abuse takes place in minor injury cases and most offenders will therefore continue to operate.

"An across-the-board benefit reduction will only penalize those who are seriously injured in car crashes. That's why we think it's important to maintain the existing benefits for the severely injured accident victims who need far more than $25,000 to put their lives back together again,' says Gurevich.

The Alliance's three-part proposal - aggressively targeting fraud, providing automatic access to treatment in cases of minor injury, and maintaining $100,000 in benefits for serious injuries - will go a long way to solving the current impasse.

"Overall, we think what we're proposing here will save costs, hold down premiums, and yet adequately protect accident victims," Gurevich says. "We hope the Minister gives serious consideration to this approach."

The Alliance of Community Medical and Rehabilitation Providers is a coalition of 43 organizations in Ontario providing direct clinical services to victims of motor vehicle accidents. The majority of their work involves rehabilitating persons with serious injuries.

The full survey report is available on request.


For further information: For further information: or to arrange an interview, contact: Rachel Sa, PR POST, office (416) 777-0368, cell (416) 454-7713

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