The world is always a complicated place. What should be simple turns out to be hard. What should be obvious turns out to be obscure. Logic tells us that when the law says everyone should buy something, this should make for a bigger market. When the market is bigger, the prices should fall. In the case of insurance, this should be even more true. The whole point of insurance is that you gather a group of people together and share the cost of the risk between them. The more people in the group, the smaller the cost of each share. Except it never works out like you expect. When it comes to capitalism and the profit motive, logic loses out to corporations and their need to pay a dividend to their stockholders. This is a story about Wisconsin today. Tomorrow, it could be about states across the US. The reason? The same problems that the state lawmakers were trying to solve in Wisconsin apply to every other state in the union. Let’s start at the beginning. All but three states have laws requiring vehicle owners to carry liability insurance when they drive on a public road. They all set minimum levels of cover against personal injuries and property damage caused to third parties. The justification is all about responsibility. The general view is that if you injure someone else, you should compensate them. Unfortunately, not everyone has a pile of cash sitting in their bank account so insurance is the name of the game. This gives every innocent victim the chance to get some money to cover their medical bills and repair their property. Unfortunately, states have never thought it a priority to keep these minimum figures under review. So as the value of the dollar has fallen through inflation, the value of the insurance pay-outs has also fallen. What were reasonably big sums of money thirty or forty years ago no longer pay for much. In Wisconsin, the last review was more than thirty years ago. But, in February 2009, the Legislature decided to catch up. The result has been a sometimes quite large increase in the premium rates. There was a major publicity campaign back in February so everyone should have known this change was coming. It was all carefully explained. It would mean more money for people who were injured or the families of those killed. But now people face the reality of the increases, they are shocked and angry. When there is a recession, how can premiums go up so much? The answer varies depending on who you ask. The auto insurance industry says it’s the fault of the state government. The politicians say it’s profiteering by the insurers. In a sense, it no longer matter why. The premium increases are here and people have to cope. Two facts stand out. There has been a significant increase in the number of claims made, particularly for vehicle theft and personal injuries. Fraud has also increased. It’s sometimes surprising how many people inflate or invent claims, particularly when their personal finances are under pressure. The result is that premiums go up and everyone suffers. But also remember that this question of the minimum liability requirements is not unique to Wisconsin. Sooner or later, every state is going to raise these numbers and the auto insurance industry is waiting to raise the premiums.
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