Online Auto Insurance News Wrap-Up for March

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OAIN summarizes some of the biggest developments lastt month in the U.S. car insurance industry

Florida finally gets no-fault reform, two states legitimize proof of coverage on smartphones, New York senators advance legislation to combat abuse of the no-fault system, two insurance giants report dismal 2011 financial results, drivers in Pennsylvania and Michigan brace for rate hikes, and more. The following summary sheet highlights some of the biggest auto insurance news items covered last month at News.OnlineAutoInsurance.com:

-- After much wrangling over the best way to fix Florida's no-fault insurance system, state lawmakers finally sent to Gov. Rick Scott a bill that greatly limits what minimum personal injury protection (PIP) policies will cover and takes a stab at stopping unscrupulous medical providers and other state residents from bilking insurers. Gov. Scott and other lawmakers have said the bill will help stop perennial rate increases in the Sunshine State through anti-fraud measures, but opponents of the bill—and even some supporters—contend that the real savings are going to come from drastic cuts to how PIP policies will provide protection going forward. If Gov. Scott signs the bill into law, which he's expected to do, use of the coverage will mostly be limited to treatment of emergency medical conditions that are diagnosed within the first 14 days after a crash.

-- State Farm and GEICO—the first- and third-largest automobile insurers in the nation, respectively—announced less-than-rosy financial results at the beginning of the month. State Farm's underwriting losses climbed $1.3 billion between 2010 and 2011, a 40.6 percent increase in losses. GEICO managed to post an underwriting profit in 2011, but it was still down about 48.5 percent from the previous year's.

-- Michigan and Pennsylvania policyholders who get coverage from a handful of companies have already seen or will be seeing rate hikes. All told, the increases in both states will amount to an estimated total $65.5 million increase in premiums as a result of those rate revisions. State Farm also announced an average 2 percent rate increase for Minnesota residents.

-- The legislatures in Arizona and Idaho became the first to get laws on the books that allow drivers to prove that they have coverage by showing police and state officials electronic copies of proof of insurance cards on smartphones.

-- New York senators passed a bill that would allow insurers to retroactively cancel policies that are revealed to have been purchased with insufficient funds or funds that were accessed illegally. Senators also are trying to create a new felony class for criminals convicted of staging accidents.

-- Debate began in the Maryland Senate over legislation that would prohibit insurers from denying coverage to auto policyholders if they don't also purchase homeowner's coverage from them, or vice versa. The practice is called "forced bundling," and the Maryland House has already voted 137-0 to keep insurers in the state from instituting it there.

-- Separate studies showed that, while most policyholders are happy with their car insurers, the young may be most likely to switch carriers and that the vast majority of consumers get information on insurance coverage and prices from TV and the Web.

For the full articles on these and many other car coverage issues, head to http://news.onlineautoinsurance.com/ to get access to the only site on the Web devoted to publishing nothing but the latest news in the U.S. car insurance industry.

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Benjamin Zitney
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