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State lags with vehicle insurance law

By Matt Pommer

Are you angry about the future requirement that everyone have health insurance?

How about the fact that Wisconsin is about to require residents to carry liability insurance on the vehicles they own? Like the controversial health care bill, the vehicle insurance law — which takes effect June 1 — cuts into your individual liberty to wing it on your own.

State officials have estimated that 15 percent of Wisconsin vehicle owners drive without liability insurance.

Much of the controversy surrounding the vehicle insurance requirement legislation was on the size of the required policy. Beginning in June, the minimum insurance is $50,000 for a one-person accident, $100,000 for multiple-person accidents and $15,000 for property damage. Minimum insurance sales at those levels started Jan. 1.

Also new are the potential fines. If you don’t have an insurance card to show an officer, the fine is $10. It could range up to $500 in an accident case. And if you fraudulently claim you have the required insurance, the fine could range up to $5,000. Nobody is likely to go to jail for not carrying vehicle liability insurance.

Nor will anyone go to jail if they fail to acquire health insurance. Not getting health insurance will mean your federal tax liability — affecting what you owe or your refund — will be higher. The incentive is expected to be an income-tax deduction.

Some may suggest the state vehicle requirement is different from the federal health reform legislation. They will say you don’t have to own a vehicle. You can walk or bike to work and church. Or you can ride government subsidized municipal buses. Of course you can gamble and go without the required insurance, hoping you never are in an accident.

The health reform provisions may not immediately affect as many people. Estimates suggest fewer than 10 percent of Wisconsin citizens are now without health insurance. More than half of Wisconsin citizens already have government sponsored health insurance through Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, and insurance programs for government employees.

Wisconsin also operates a high-risk pool for those unable to obtain private health insurance. The program covers more than 17,000 persons and is the third-largest state program in the nation. Individual premiums pay about 60 percent of the cost. Private insurance companies subsidize part of the cost by state assessments on the policies they sell.

Do you think the assessments are a form of “socialism”? Whatever you call it, high risk pools also exist in 34 other states.

The vehicle insurance requirements? Until the new law was passed, Wisconsin was only one of two states without mandated coverage. Forty-eight other states got there before us.

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

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