May 6, 2019 by Greg Meckbach
Two years after David Marshall released 30 recommendations for reforming auto insurance in Ontario, it’s time to focus on what the current government is actually proposing, a consultant suggests.
“I think it’s time to stop talking about Marshall and focus really on what’s in the (2019-20) budget proposal,” Willie Handler, principal of Willie Handler & Associates, said in a recent interview.
Marshall, former CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, was appointed in 2015 as a special advisor to Charles Sousa, then the Liberal minister of finance. Marshall’s report, Fair Benefits Fairly Delivered, was released in April, 2017.
Fourteen months later, the Progressive Conservatives were elected with a majority government. No major changes – other than reforms that were underway before the election – are in the works.
But in the budget document released nearly a month ago, the PCs included a high-level overview of some changes they are considering. Among them are increasing the range of auto insurance coverage choices available to motorists and additional opportunities for discounts.
“For example, drivers should have the choice to lower their premiums by allowing insurers to consider their credit history, or by agreeing to use preferred providers of auto repair or health care services,” the government said in the budget.
“I foresee that this would be difficult to implemented province wide,” Handler said of the proposal to let insurers base rates in part on whether or not a client agrees to use the insurer’s preferred healthcare clinics if the client is injured. “If you decide that you are going to go with a preferred provider option because you would get a discount, and you live in a smaller community, what happens if the provider in that part of the community is not part of the network?”
Handler spent 20 years of his career working on auto insurance policy for the Ontario government.
He did praise the PCs for “thinking outside the box” with some of their solutions, such as a “cash not care” default option for auto accident benefits.
In the budget document released April 11, the government is claiming its “Putting Drivers First blueprint will address key issues” identified in the 2017 Marshall report.
“They only mention that there was a report,” Handler said of the budget. “Since they were elected a year ago, they were not interested in implementing Marshall.”
Although Marshall recommended a new insurance regulator, it was the Liberals who brought in legislation – before the release of the Marshall report – replacing the Financial Services commission of Ontario with the Financial Services Regulatory Authority.
In essence, Marshall concluded that too much money is being spent on legal fees instead of treatment, and not enough focus is being placed on making accident victims better. One of his recommendations was a system of a hospital-based independent examination centres, which has not been implemented. The aim is to reduce legal fees spent on duelling assessments. The concept is that when a client is hurt in a car accident, an examination centre could provide a diagnosis and treatment plan that would essentially be binding on both the claimant and the insurance carrier in an accident benefits dispute and given a “zone of deference” in motor vehicle personal injury lawsuits. Marshall contended this would be different from the designated assessment centre system that was stopped in 2006.
In late 2017, the Liberals said they planned to set up independent examination centres similar in concept to what Marshall recommended and also to bring in standard treatment plans for common collision injuries such as sprains, strains and whiplash.
Handler told Canadian Underwriter earlier that the Liberals never actually put those proposed independent examination centres in place before they were defeated in 2018.
If the government brings in standard treatment plans for common injuries, this might limit the opportunities to save money through preferred health provider networks, Handler suggested.
“If the government is going to be introducing programs of care for common injuries, I wonder whether or not this option around preferred providers is going to accomplish anything. Sometimes if you throw too many things into the pot, you just fill up the pot. It doesn’t necessarily mean you come up with something better.”