Floridians have wondered what happened to the promised rate relief on homeowners insurance. Now they may find the same fate awaits them on auto premiums.
Insurers promised an average 13 percent to 16 percent drop in auto premiums once the state's controversial no-fault insurance law expires. That's because when the law sunsets Oct. 1, so will the requirement for drivers to buy $10,000 in personal injury protection, or PIP, which covers medical bills after an accident for a driver and passengers.
But the savings could be small at best for many drivers. And for some, especially those without health insurance, only higher premiums are in their future.
A Miami Herald review of various auto policies that come up for renewal early next month shows savings of 10 percent or less -- and that is if consumers don't buy medical payments coverage to replace benefits now provided by PIP. Adding that wipes out any savings and in most cases costs more than before.
In a post no-fault world, for instance, a Homestead resident, whose 2004 Ford F150 truck is insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, would pay nearly $47 less -- a 9 percent drop -- on his six-month premium if he can go without the medical coverage. But if he has to buy the coverage, his overall premium would be about $8 higher than the old premium of $496.22 that included the PIP coverage.
The six-month premium for Joe Nasuti's policy on a 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible, his primary automobile, would go up $30 to $346.90. For the three cars he owns, this Palm Beach Gardens resident would realize a savings of $16 on his Geico policy.
If he wanted to replace the $10,000 of PIP coverage with the same amount of medical payments coverage, however, the policy cost for three cars would jump $140.
Insurers "are just pulling the wool over your eyes, " Nasuti said.
Geico did not respond to two e-mail requests for comment.
One reason drivers may see fractional savings is that insurers have raised rates on other auto coverages such as:
* Bodily injury liability, which pays medical bills for accident victims if you cause the accident.
* Uninsured motorist coverage, which pays medical bills if you're in an accident with a driver who carries insufficient insurance.
In its filing with state regulators, State Farm said its bodily injury liability rate will go up an average 9 percent statewide, while uninsured motorist coverage goes up an average 5.1 percent.
The reasons: Claims previously handled under PIP benefits would now shift to these other coverages, insurers say.
If policyholders need to buy medical payments coverage, premiums could stay about the same, said Justin Glover, a State Farm spokesman. "We think [a policyholder] would still be better off, " he said.
State Farm and other insurers say medical payments coverage goes much further because insurers negotiate with providers on fees and utilization. With PIP, auto insurers are obligated to pay what doctors and hospitals charge.
Several major insurers, including State Farm Insurance of Florida and Allstate Florida, have been aggressive proponents of letting the no-fault law sunset because it breeds massive fraud and runs up charges for often unnecessary and expensive medical procedures to exhaust the $10,000 that's provided in every accident.
Sanjay Vyas, Progressive's product manager for direct business in Florida, said the no-fault system, designed to lower costs by reducing the number of lawsuits, hasn't worked out that way. Lawsuits have increased, he said.