Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'Scandal of Insurance costs must be on election agenda'

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Many of us are puzzled by the strange dichotomies which surround the insurance sector. On one hand we more usually forward-pay for a service we cannot be sure we are going to get if the evil day comes upon us.

From the other side of things we have the recurring suspicion insurers can on occasion take the easier and immediately cheaper route of settling claims which bear closer scrutiny. The great irony is insurance, conceived to manage risk and ultimately enhance our quality of life, is now having a negative effect because its increasing costs have inhibited business and hit employment.

On Saturday, we detailed how an undercover reporter for this newspaper found evidence some doctors were encouraging clients to bring questionable injury claims. We also detailed how some solicitors are engaged in similar behaviour.

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Today we bring further details and pose questions to the regulatory authorities.

Nobody is trying to impugn the integrity of our doctors and lawyers. We must all be careful to avoid the actions of a minority being allowed to tarnish the reputations of the majority. We must also admit that determining some injuries, such as "whiplash", is not always easy for legal and medical professionals.

But the Government minister responsible for insurance reforms has now challenged the medical and legal regulatory bodies to investigate these cases effectively and swiftly. Junior Finance Minister Michael D'Arcy has worked hard on this issue since his appointment back in June 2017.

Not having a full seat at the Cabinet table, there have at times been doubts about the Government's full-on commitment to its stated aim of attacking exaggerated insurance claims and fighting for more reasonable costs. Today we report that Mr D'Arcy has courageously expressed his concerns that there may be some legal and medical professionals whose behaviour is questionable in these matters.

The minister is adamant some claims are exaggerated at best while others are simply fraudulent. In most citizens' language, that is simply called "theft" - and it has to stop. "There are dozens of exaggerated cases where people are looking for more than they should," Mr D'Arcy said.

The Government is awaiting a Central Bank report to detail how claims are being settled, the level of awards and the level of premiums. But people can be forgiven for feeling, yet again, they are one more report away from action being taken.

The issue of unduly high legal fees - with a single day in court costing €30,000 to €50,000 - is a big issue in all of this. It leads to some insurers taking what amounts to the cheaper option and caving in to wrongful claimants.

This problem almost became an issue in the last general election in February 2016. It really should play largely in the agenda for the upcoming general election, now just months away. People are suffering and livelihoods are being lost.

Irish Independent

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