Walker signs bill rolling back auto insurance minimums
Backers say law will cut costs; foes cite rising tab for health care
By Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 12, 2011
Madison — Mandated increases in auto insurance coverage will be rolled back under legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday.
The measure rolls back coverage minimums passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2009 but would still require motorists to have coverage.
"This is one more step toward empowering consumers across the state of Wisconsin," Walker said at a Capitol bill-signing.
Republicans, who now control state government, argue that the higher coverage requirements enacted as part of then-Gov. Jim Doyle's 2009-'11 budget are raising insurance costs for consumers, especially hurting those least able to pay premiums. Drivers should have the option of purchasing the lower coverage levels, they say. Some Democrats also supported the repeal legislation.
Supporters of the higher coverage amounts say the lower minimums were outdated and overdue for an increase because they were set in the 1980s. Since then, health care costs for accident victims have skyrocketed, they say.
The group Citizen Action of Wisconsin has released a report that questions insurance industry claims that changes made by Democrats caused an increase in insurance costs of at least 33%.
Wisconsin historically has had some of the lowest car insurance rates in the country.
The website carinsurance.com lists Wisconsin car insurance rates as of March as being 40% below the national average - similar to the rates in the surrounding states except for Michigan, where rates are slightly higher than the national average.
Andy Franken, president of the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, pointed out that even though rates may be low, the actual cost to consumers could be higher simply because they're required to buy more coverage.
Under the old law, drivers with insurance were required to carry minimum liability coverage of $25,000 for the injury or death of a person; $50,000 for the injury or death of more than one person; and $10,000 for property damage.
The Republicans restored those limits from the current $50,000, $100,000 and $15,000 limits, respectively.
Among other provisions, the legislation would reduce minimums for underinsured motorist coverage to $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, from $100,000 and $300,000. The repeal measure would ban "stacking" of coverage, in which drivers could use coverage from up to three of their vehicles to help pay costs from an accident involving just one of the vehicles.
Newly insured targeted
The measure also would allow insurers to put drivers buying insurance for the first time into a high-risk category, allowing them to charge higher premiums.
It also includes a provision that would allow insurers to insert clauses into their policies that could lower the amount drivers collect when they are hit by underinsured drivers.
"This is really a sad day for automobile insurance consumers," said Mike End, president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, which represents trial attorneys. "The new law rolls back important consumer protections that were enacted in 2009."
Franken said the legislation should take effect Nov. 1. After that, it would start potentially affecting insurance policies as they come up for renewal.
If insurers chose to make changes, they would need to give customers notice 60 days before putting them into place.
Consumers who would like to see whether they could lower their insurance premiums by lowering their coverage amounts should contact their agents, he said.
"This provides choice and affordability for consumers in the marketplace," Franken said.
Minimum liability coverage
$25,000 for injury or death of a person
$50,000 for injury or death of more than one person
$10,000 for property damage