COVID – 19 Auto Insurance Yearly Reminder
Check Your Auto Policy for Personal Injury Protection “PIP” or Med-Pay.
Auto insurance can be a tricky field to understand, especially since it seems to have a language all of its own. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this blog discusses why PIP or Med Pay insurance is absolutely critical to have as part of your auto insurance policy. Often overlooked in the common goal of finding the lowest insurance rates, PIP and Med-Pay play an important role if you are involved in a serious auto accident.
This is especially true in the COVID-19 era where many of us are trying to save money and “pinch pennies” in hope of weathering the economic impact of COVID-19.
This past week, a number of injured persons have called my office to discuss their auto injury claims and their need for medical treatment; For the first time they discover they do not have Personal Injury Protection or Med-Pay.
There are a number of reasons why a person would not carry Personal Injury Protection or Med-Pay coverage. Most often, it is cost. In the “click and select laptop world” we live in, a person might forget to click the correct box on their insurance application, thereby waiving this important coverage. A knowledgeable and experienced insurance agent can assist with this process and make sure this does not happen.
Respected Burien All State Agent Charlie Brown notes: “It is absolutely critical that policy holders carry either PIP or Med-Pay. I recommend these options to all of my clients.”
PIP can cost from as little as fifty dollars per month up to a couple of hundred dollars per month. It is dependent on the age of the applicant, the make and model of the applicant’s vehicle, and the amount of coverage sought. It may not be the least expensive coverage on your auto policy, however, it is vital to proper protection.
What Does PIP Mean?
PIP is an acronym that means Personal Injury Protection. Sometimes it is called “Med-Pay”. It is a type of coverage that can be added to your auto insurance and is designed to cover your medical expenses in the event of an accident. In some cases, PIP insurance can even cover lost wages if your accident has rendered you unable to work for a period of time.
PIP benefits are limited to the driver and passengers in the insured vehicle. The injured person looks to his/her own insurance policy or the policy on the vehicle in which he/she was a passenger for PIP or Med-Pay benefits. The exception to this general rule applies to pedestrians and bicyclists. In Washington, pedestrians and bicyclists may be covered by PIP benefits of the car that hits and injures them.
In Washington State, the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage on your auto policy pays for medical expenses related to an auto accident, regardless of fault, and pays out immediately. If you are injured by another driver, you must settle on the total amount of the loss with the other insurance company first before you will be reimbursed for medical claims. It often takes a few months and sometimes years after an auto accident for all of the medical issues to be resolved. In the meantime, you are responsible for all medical bills that may accrue. PIP pays immediately, up to the coverage limit, for any auto accident-related medical bills.
This is especially the case in the COVID-19 era in that there is anecdotal evidence in my practice that insurance companies are recognizing the economic hardships from COVID-19 that claimants are going through and tailoring their settlement offers of settlement lower than usual in hopes of obtaining “bargain basement” settlements from claimants.
What is Med Pay coverage?
Med Pay typically is similar to PIP coverage but much less comprehensive. It covers the policyholder, the other drivers listed on the policy, members of the insured’s household, and passengers during an accident. Unlike PIP coverage, Med Pay only covers direct medical or surgical care related to physical injuries that result from an auto accident. Med Pay may help you pay for:
- Medical expenses
- Hospital expenses
- Dental care
- Funeral expenses
Med Pay will not help pay for things like psychiatric treatment, childcare, lost wages, or losses for surviving dependents or convalescent care.
Med Pay can also supplement your standard health insurance after an accident. In some situations, it can help pay for your health plan’s deductible, as well as other out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by your health plan.
Med Pay has no deductible or copay, unlike most health insurance plans. Plus, with Med Pay, you are covered if injured as an automobile passenger, on public transportation, or by a driver while you are walking or cycling.
Am I Required by the State of Washington to Have PIP Insurance?
The short answer is no. Many people opt out of PIP insurance or don’t even consider it because they are trying to keep their insurance payments as low as possible. Washington State law RCW 48.22.100 enumerates the limits of what must be offered by your insurance company, but drivers are free to decline coverage or seek lower limits. Policy holders can opt out of PIP coverage in writing. If the insurance provider does not obtain a written rejection authorization from the policy holder then they must add the coverage to the insurance policy.
In Washington State, PIP coverage must, at minimum, provide the following benefits:
- Up to $10,000 for medical expenses for each individual injured in an auto accident.
- Up to $200 per week for lost wages (income replacement coverage).
- Up to $2,000 for funeral expenses.
- Up to $5,000 for loss of services (payment to others for work you can’t do such as cleaning and yard work).
Washington State law only requires liability insurance, which pays damages to the other party if you are at fault in an accident. Other states, including Florida, New York, and New Jersey, do require PIP coverage as a part of your insurance policy. If you are financing a vehicle, your lender may require you to carry a more extensive insurance policy, which might include PIP coverage.
To find out if you currently have PIP or Med Pay coverage, contact your insurance agent and ask about the details of your policy, or visit your online policy website and check your coverage details. Look for the section titled “Declarations Page”.
Why Is PIP Insurance Important?
Although liability insurance is required by law, the cruel fact is that many, many people are driving around illegally and not covered by the necessary liability insurance. If one of these people happens to injure you and your family, you could be out of luck because there will be no insurance company to pay your medical bills. There is insurance known as UIM, or uninsured motorist coverage, however that is a topic for another post.
Another reality to keep in mind is that many people have the most bare-bones policy possible because they are trying to keep their monthly bills low. The cost for medical treatment may extend beyond the limits of their insurance coverage, and then you will be responsible for the rest, even though you were not at fault in the accident.
Do not assume that just because you are an excellent driver that you will never be at fault in a traffic accident. If this happens and you are injured, your PIP insurance will pay for your medical bills, regardless of fault. In addition to paying your immediate medical bills, PIP insurance can also help pay for details like transportation to and from your medical care and home health care, which could be necessary if you or your loved one is seriously injured.
Should I Get PIP or Med Pay Insurance?
The short answer is absolutely YES. If your policy does not currently include PIP or Med Pay coverage, my office strongly encourages you to add this important provision. Yes, you will pay a bit more per month for your coverage, but in the case of a serious accident, you won’t have to worry and stress about how to pay your medical bills. Further, many health care providers will not provide health care unless there is PIP or Med Pay insurance or other “First Party” insurance available.
My office has represented many drivers who were seriously injured through no fault of their own and then found themselves deluged with unexpected medical bills and no way to pay them. Or they are unable to receive the medical care they needed because they cannot locate a health care provider who would treat them without “First Party” insurance.
Burien Attorney W. Tracy Codd has been representing persons involved in serious auto accidents since 1987. Call for a free consultation.
EMAIL: [email protected]
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