Ontario’s insurance companies may be complying with a government directive to lower costs by June 1, but it may come at the cost of coverage.
According to the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) website, “the standard auto insurance policy you receive from your insurer or broker will have the new lower benefits – unless you act quickly and contact your insurance representative to purchase optional coverage.”
Back in 2013, Ontario’s governing Liberals promised to reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent within two years. The pledge was part of a deal to get the opposition NDP to support their budget and keep their minority government in power.
When the August 2015 deadline passed with only a seven per cent reduction in rates, Wynne declared the 15 per cent target was “a stretch goal.”
In the 2015 budget, the Liberals outlined changes to Ontario’s auto insurance options intended to give consumers more choice and reduce incidents of insurance fraud.
Among the proposed changes, the compulsory standard accident benefits will be reduced on June 1, but drivers do have the option to purchase increased benefits if they choose.
The key changes include combining medical and attendant care for catastrophic injuries into a single benefit, and introducing a new benefit for all injuries, available for a fee.
“If you want to maintain the level of coverage that you had previously – or close to what you had previously, or close to what you paid before – you’re not going to see a reduction to your premiums,” said Brian Hisey, an insurance broker at Ledoux, Lew & Patterson. “You’re definitely going to get less coverage starting in June, at a slightly lower cost.”
But Celyest Power, spokesperson for the Insurance Board of Canada, defends the changes.
“Ontario has some of the highest auto insurance premiums in Canada and that’s because the insurance product is the richest in Canada,” she says, pointing out that other provinces don’t even offer some of the benefits available in Ontario.
“These changes allow consumers a greater choice in coverage,” including lower interest rates for monthly premium payments and reducing from six months to four weeks the waiting period for people who are not working to receive benefits.
“There’s a lot of good stuff for the consumer,” she said.
Under the new legislation, insurers are required to submit their proposed rate changes to the FSCO for approval. The agency is tasked with ensuring that the proposed rates are reasonable, not excessive and not going to impair the company’s financial solvency.
FSCO has listed the approved filings for the first quarter of 2016 on their website, giving customers transparency into the rate changes for each company.
Also under the new guidelines, insurance companies can’t use minor at-fault accidents to increase premiums. Accidents where there are no injuries and less than $2,000 in damages per car can’t be used to increase a customer’s rates. However, the provision is limited to one minor accident every three years.
Power suggests consumers contact their insurance brokers to make sure they compare rates and benefits from a number of companies before making a decision.
“The biggest piece of advice is to pick up the phone and talk to your insurance provider,” she says.