If you believe their slogans, insurance companies are like a good neighbor. They're on your side. They keep their promises. They're helping people, guiding people, serving people. Rest assured, they say, you're in good hands.
But that's the world of advertising, not the gritty world of reality where insurance companies are far more concerned with making a buck than being honest, reasonable or fair.
It goes without saying that insurance companies should be fair. West Virginians work hard, and part of their hard-earned money goes toward paying for things like insurance to cover their homes, cars and small businesses. We should get what we pay for, right? We pay for protection. If we suffer a loss, the insurance company should promptly investigate and pay any claims that are covered by the policy we're paying for. But it seems like insurance companies are constantly on the lookout for ways to fatten their pockets, even it means hurting their own customers.
This year our Legislature will be considering two bills to require insurance companies to be fair. These are small steps, I know. But these are two specific areas where our own experience has shown us that insurance companies deprive customers of basic fairness.
Remember the derecho a year and a half ago? Thousands of people throughout West Virginia suffered wind damage and made claims under their homeowner policies. Many of those same people received cancellation notices in the mail. Why? Because insurance companies were counting the derecho claims against them and now they were considered to be unacceptable risks.
But the Legislature is responding. During the Legislature's interim sessions, a joint committee approved a bill that would prevent insurance companies from canceling or failing to renew property insurance after a claim relating to an act of nature. That bill has now been introduced in both houses.
A similar situation can occur with auto insurance. If a customer submits too many claims, insurance companies will increase their rates because of the increased risk. But what if the accident wasn't their fault? Should it count against them anyway? The Legislature says no. A bill that is being reintroduced from last year, HB 2551,HB 2551 would prevent insurance companies from increasing premiums under an auto policy for claims that weren't caused by the customer's own fault.
Unfortunately, these bills won't force insurance companies to live up to the promises they make in their advertising. Nor will they change the profits-over-people mentality that we see far too often from insurance companies operating in our state. But they will provide a real fix for a real problem that's affected thousands of West Virginians who did nothing more than file a legitimate claim. The Legislature should give swift consideration and passage to both of these bills.