Tag Archives: 2011

Worst Auto Insurance Companies – 2011

Article by Steven Gursten

Personal injury lawyers helping people injured in car and truck accidents deal with auto insurance companies every day. Many will tell you that auto insurance companies make a lot of money by not paying out on legitimate claims.

They will also say that accident victims have been limping away from hundreds of millions of dollars in valid and deserving claims that insurance companies are required to pay. Why? Many of these auto insurance companies believe you won’t wait, you won’t hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit, and you will eventually become so fed up that you’ll take a low-ball settlement offer. This is called the “3 Ds” strategy: insurance companies will delay your claim, deny you were hurt and defend aggressively.

Steven M. Gursten, an experienced auto accident lawyer and partner of Michigan Auto Law, put together this list of the worst insurance companies, based on what he and the 17 attorneys in his law firm see every day from the Michigan auto insurance industry. In their own experiences representing people suing these insurance companies for No-Fault benefits, or helping people injured in car accidents where these insurance companies are on the other side, these are their personal picks as the worst of the bunch, as told by Gursten.

1. Dairyland Insurance – My Worst Insurance Company in Michigan Award

I’ve never seen any insurance company send a release to its own injured customers extinguishing all of their legal rights, past, present and future, just SEVEN days after a crash – until Dairyland Insurance did just this. The accident victim signed this release, and lost all future No-Fault insurance benefits and claims. Accident victims usually receive this release after the case has closed.

2. Farm Bureau Insurance – My Winner of the Insurance Company Skunk Award

A lawyer is not supposed to stand up in court and intentionally mislead a jury. But Farm Bureau is doing this in serious auto accident injury cases every day. In a Michigan Auto Law case, Farm Bureau insured the vehicle of an 18-year-old girl, who slammed into a man’s SUV while she was speeding on the dirt shoulder. The car accident victim had to be transported to the hospital by helicopter. But instead of taking responsibility or making any meaningful attempts to settle this case, Farm Bureau’s defense strategy was to hang its customer out to dry, hoping the jury would believe the at-fault teenage driver was the one who would be paying up – instead of Farm Bureau. Because of this case, and anti-consumer changes that Farm Bureau has in its own underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) policy, Farm Bureau wins my Skunk Award in 2011.

3. Allstate Insurance Company – Winner, my Repeat Offender Award

Allstate didn’t seem to have any problem growing its bottom line, even in this tough Michigan economy. The insurance giant posted an almost 10 percent increase in national profits compared to 2008. It pulled in national earnings of 8 million, and generated a nearly 23 percent boost in total revenues*. What our insurance attorneys don’t like is how Allstate pulled it off: Documents made public in 2008 describe a two-pronged strategy for how Allstate cut payments to its own customers as a way to boost profits. First, the company evaluates claims with a computer program designed to reduce claims payouts. Second, Allstate pushes injury victims to accept quick but very low settlements.

*”How a get-tough policy lifted Allstate’s profits” – Herald Tribune, April 6, 2008

4. Progressive Insurance – Winner, My Worthless Coverage Award

What is buried in the fine print? How about completely worthless auto insurance that you paid a lot of money for. This tough lesson was exemplified by one of my cases where my client was struck nearly head-on at age 28. She had 13 surgeries, spent almost a month in the hospital and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The driver who hit her did not have auto insurance. But the victim had purchased uninsured motorist coverage (UM) from Progressive, which is supposed to protect someone if she’s injured in a car accident by an uninsured driver. Too bad Progressive’s uninsured motorist coverage was worthless and completely failed to protect her because of what Progressive buries in its policy.

5. Daimler Chrysler Insurance Company – “This Isn’t Even Insurance!” Award

Want an example of outrageous and deplorable conduct by an insurance company? In another of my cases, a kind mother of three daughters was killed when a drunken, cocaine-using defendant crashed into her vehicle. Her estate sued the defendant and won a .5 million jury verdict. But her family was unable to collect anything because Daimler Chrysler Insurance Company’s No-Fault insurance coverage STOPS its own customers from collecting if they are

Health Insurance Costs to Rise Sharply in 2011

A Coping Strategy for the Healthy

With open enrollment season just around the corner, this may be the year to consider a high deductible health insurance plan that you can then pair with  a Health Savings Account. More firms are offering these plans; if you are in relatively good health, you can reduce your premium by opting for a high-deductible plan. For this year that means a family deductible of at least ,400, or ,200 for an individual policy.

Once you enroll in a qualifying high-deductible plan you’re then eligible to contribute to your own HSA. You get a tax break on contributions into the HSA and withdrawals used to pay for medical expenses are not taxed. The maximum family contribution to an HSA this year is ,150. (,050 for individuals.) The maximums for 2011 have yet to be announced; they probably won’t budge given the low general rate of inflation.

You can also let the money sit in the HSA and grow; unlike a flexible spending account there is no “use it or lose it provision.” Your balance can be used for future medical expenses decades from now. Or once you turn 65 you are free to use your HSA balance for anything. though you will owe income tax on your withdrawals. Just like with a Traditional IRA.
Well, there’s one area where deflation will definitely not be at play in 2011: health insurance.  A survey of large businesses reports that employers expect their health care insurance costs to rise by an average of 8.9 percent in 2011. And to help  cover those rising health insurance costs, more than six out of 10 employers also expect to raise their employees’ share of the premium cost. Given that the average salary raise for 2011 is expected to be in the vicinity of 3 percent, it’s likely many Americans are going to see any bump in their compensation eaten up by having to pay more for health insurance.

As Derek Thompson laid out in a post last week at The Atlantic we may need to get used to that sad fact. Thompson highlighted this 2009 chart from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers:
Yes, the chart was ginned up pre-health care reform, but the final legislation pretty much punted on health care cost containment, so there’s no reason to expect the trajectories in the chart will change anytime soon.

Paying More for the Less Coverage

According to the National Business Group on Health survey, paying more of your overall premium is just one  extra cost you may face in 2011; out-pocket maximums and bigger in-network deductibles are the next two “most popular” options employers will enlist to share the pain of rising insurance coverage.

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health insurance costs for 2011 include higher premiums and co-payments

The selection is likely to be even less appealing this year than last. According to experts and industry insiders, recent trends suggest rates will continue to rise and employers will continue to shift more of the cost of health insurance onto workers – asking them to shoulder a larger share of premiums, for instance, or increasing out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and co-pays.Easy To Insure ME has the answers

This past year, overall premiums for employer-sponsored coverage – meaning the amounts paid by employer and employee combined – rose a relatively modest average of 3 percent for family coverage, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. But the share of such premiums covered by the worker increased from 27 percent to 30 percent, with the result that the amount paid by workers rose an average of 13.7 percent.

The most comprehensive statistics on plan offerings for 2011 won’t be available for months. But a September survey of employers by Mercer, a leading benefits consulting company, suggests last year’s patterns will continue.

Overall, the employers said that they expected their health-care costs to increase between 9 and 12 percent – but that they planned to use cost-saving measures to effectively bring that increase down to 6 percent. Some 57 percent said one way they would do this would be to have their employees pay a greater share of the cost of coverage.

Many employers also said they would try to lower their costs by prompting employees to improve their health: Forty-four percent said they will add health management or wellness programs. An additional 38 percent said they will add incentives for employees to participate in existing programs.

Impact of the new law

Because this is the first major open-enrollment period since key provisions of the new health-care law started taking effect, many workers will wonder how much of the plan changes they see is due to the legislation. Not much, say analysts.

The law’s most market-altering changes – including provisions that may or may not control premiums – don’t kick in until 2014.

“We’re three years away from that,” said economist Paul Fronstin of the nonprofit Employee Benefits Research Institute. “For the most part, the plans don’t know what they’re going to be doing [in response]. It’s just too soon.”

There is a notable exception: On their next annual renewal date, all plans will be required to comply with certain mandates such as eliminating lifetime dollar limits on benefits and allowing parents to put adult children up to age 26 on their plan. Insurers that make certain changes to existing plans or employers that switch insurance carriers will have to offer additional benefits such as free preventive services.

It’s possible that bare-bones employer-sponsored plans – particularly small-group plans bought by businesses with only a few employees – may need to substantially increase premiums to cover the extra cost. And a number of insurers have already blamed the law for coming large rate hikes. But estimates by researchers suggest that on average premium increases for employer-based plans due to the new requirements will be less than 2 percent.

“And we’re talking less than 1 percent in many cases,” said Sara Collins, head of the insurance program at the Commonwealth Fund, a health-care research group.

Watts was less sanguine, noting that the small businesses surveyed by Mercer expected the new law’s requirements to add 3 percent to their costs. “As someone who works with employers, I can say it’s hard to get even a 1 percent increase out of your plan costs” through cost-saving measures, she said.

At other companies, particularly mid-size and smaller ones, the workers’ health status may be the determining factor. “For instance, if someone got sick in your group, especially with a disease that [your insurer] thinks is going to continue, they will take that into account when they set your premiums, and you are going to take a whack for it,” said Gary Claxton, who directs the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Marketplace Policy Project.

Large companies can be affected by shifts in the makeup of their work force. “A company will look at, for instance, are they going to be hiring or downsizing?” said Claxton. “Do they have a bunch of early retirees who are going to move from one plan to another?”

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