October 28, 2009

Wisconsin Auto Insurance Rates to Jump from Third Lowest to One of the Highest

With the backing and support of Wisconsin trial attorneys, Gov. Jim Doyle is proposing a raise in the minimum liability coverage for auto insurance policies in the state. If passed, this proposal will become part of Wisconsin auto insurance laws January 1, 2010 and could propel the state auto insurance rates from the third lowest to one of the highest in the country. The plan proposes to raise minimum coverage from $25,000 to $50,000 per person and from $50,000 to $100,000 per incident. Property damage will go from $10,000 to $15,000.

This proposal comes as a part of the governor’s new budget plan and has raised concern among members of the state’s insurance industry. Mark Thomsen, president of the Wisconsin Associate for Justice, points out that it has been more than 25 years since the state has raised the minimum amount of auto insurance. He applauds Governor Doyle’s proposal. According to Doyle spokeswoman Carla Vigue, “the proposed changes would bring coverage more in line with the increased costs of treatment for people injured in accidents, and would provide greater certainty to those with insurance.”

However some believe that these changes are for the benefit of Wisconsin trial attorneys. For them, a change in the state’s auto insurance coverage will provide for greater settlements on personal injury cases. Many lawmakers also question why the proposal is included in the budget plan for Wisconsin. The governor believes that the state’s Medicaid health care program is being affected as car accident victims can’t pay for medical costs to treat their injuries. It remains to be seen if this proposal will actually be a part of the upcoming discussion on Doyle’s budget since the Joint Finance Committee will ultimately decide whether it will have great enough impact on the state’s budget.

Wisconsin is one of only two states in the U.S. that does not require drivers to have auto insurance. Insurance industry trade groups worry that Wisconsinites may forego auto insurance as the impact may force state residents to pay at least 33 percent more in premiums. According to 2007 estimates from the Insurance Research Council, the uninsured rate in Wisconsin is higher than the national average. As unemployment rises, more of the state’s residents find paying for inessentials to be out of the question.

Wisconsin Insurance Alliance president Andrew J. Franken has encouraged the Doyle administration to give the proposal more thought and consider all of the ramifications. However Wisconsin auto insurance reform is a part of Doyle’s budget rather than a separate bill so it is unlikely that there will be any public debate. Says, Franken, “We’re very disappointed that this is the process the governor and others have chosen.”