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Robert Kraig: Shop around for auto insurance

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Some insurance companies are sending out notices to consumers trying to blame the Legislature for making pro-consumer changes and telling them this will raise rates. You might wonder what the big deal is this year, since they raise rates almost every year anyway. Blaming the Legislature for increasing rates is simply ridiculous. Increasing insurance rates are almost as certain as death and taxes.

If your insurance company is telling you they plan to increase your rates again - shop around. Wisconsin has a very competitive auto insurance market with hundreds of companies competing for business and lots of local agents ready to help find better rates. Independent consumer advocates have found that there is a very good chance that a different company will provide you with lower rates. Personally, I saved 35 percent on my auto insurance by switching companies late last year.

Most of us who drive already carry auto insurance. According to industry figures around 80 percent or more already carry coverage that is greater than the new minimum limits the Legislature updated for the first time since 1982. Those legislative changes contained in the state budget passed this summer should not affect rates.

The Legislature took bold steps to stand up for consumers against deceptive practices when it adopted changes earlier this year. They eliminated many provisions insurance companies had put in place to deny thousands of claims. The new legislation makes sure consumers actually will get what they pay for. Now, when a consumer buys $100,000 of underinsured motorist coverage, they will now actually get that amount, rather than having the other driver's policy limits deducted from it. Legislators recognized that, if insurance is to work best, Wisconsin drivers need to accept responsibility by making sure they have insurance at a reasonable level to reflect today's medical and property costs. The Legislature should be commended.

Insurance companies are just upset that they don't get to make all the rules anymore. They want to take your money and then create a complicated set of loopholes designed to limit your access to the coverage you pay for. They count on you not to understand there is a problem until it is too late. In the book "The Rainmaker" by John Grisham, it is described succinctly - deny claims, even the most deserving. Most people will give up, and the insurance company pockets the money.

The insurance industry likes to attack trial lawyers because they know the only place accident victims can make the insurance companies honor their policies is in court. If insurance were working for everyone, there would not be more than 60,000 insurance company complaints in Wisconsin over the past decade, far more than any other business. Under the new laws, there will be less need for people to take insurance companies to court in order to get the coverage they paid for and deserve.

So, if you feel that your insurance company is unfairly raising your rates, just shop around. Independent consumer advocates have generally found that shopping for auto insurance at renewal time can result in savings of 15 percent to 40 percent. Insurers know they have to give you a good deal to get you to switch carriers. But because many consumers do not take the time to shop, insurers know they can stick it to many of their existence customers. If you are a diligent consumer and shop around, there are many insurance companies are willing to win your business by giving you the coverage you deserve at a fair price.

Robert Kraig is the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Citizen Action is a consumer advocacy organization with over 80,000 members across Wisconsin. www.citizenactionwi.org.

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