Ontario promises action to address rising insurance rates as critics urge regulation

By Shawn Jeffords

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Under pressure to address rising commercial insurance rates blamed on the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford promised this week to take action to stop what he called “gouging” by some companies in the sector.

Ford twice this week has told insurance firms to rein in what he described as  “astronomical” rate increases to businesses or outright denial of coverage.

His comments followed calls this week from various municipal and opposition politicians for the province to clamp down on the insurance industry with further regulations.

Ford expressed anger Thursday, using banquet halls as an example of an industry hard-hit by the pandemic that now also faces sky-rocketing insurance premiums.

“They’re absolutely just refusing to insure people, we don’t play that game,” Ford said.  “You guys don’t get to get all the cream and gravy … and just slough off everything else and think we aren’t going to insure it.”

When pressed for details of his action plan, Ford said he was working with Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who is expected to deliver the provincial budget next month, to address the issue.

“I’m on to these guys,” Ford said.  “The people are the priority, not the big insurance companies making gazillions of dollars. So I’m coming.”

Phillips’ office said this week that while the province regulates the auto insurance sector, it currently does not oversee commercial insurance.

A spokeswoman for the minister said the government was watching the insurance companies and their handling of the needs of the hospitality sector during the pandemic.

Emily Hogeveen said Phillips had also had discussions with the head of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario – the province’s fiscal regulator – on the issue.

“The minister’s message to insurance companies has been clear we expect you to treat your customers fairly. We will be closely monitoring the situation to ensure companies are adhering to a high standard of conduct,” she said in a statement. “All options are on the table.”

A spokesman for the Insurance Bureau of Canada said claims costs for commercial insurance were increasing across a number of sectors before COVID-19.

The pandemic has compounded “affordability and availability” of insurance, Steve Kee said in a statement.

“Insurance claims costs in general are on the rise, while Canada’s insurers have been working to keep rate increases to a minimum,” he said.

Kee said the commercial insurance market is competitive and it could be possible for businesses to find lower rates by shopping around.

“IBC continues to work with our members and other partners to find solutions to ensure that commercial insurance remains affordable,” he said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has pressed the province to step in and protect restaurants and food delivery services, which are reporting dramatic insurance rate hikes.

“I fully support any action to be undertaken by the province to help address this, to support businesses who are simply trying to be good and continuing customers of these insurance companies,” he said.

Long-time Ontario legislator Jim Wilson, a former interim leader of the Progressive Conservative party who now sits as an independent, made a surprising call earlier this week for strict regulation of the insurance sector.

Wilson said he thought deeply before making the impassioned request during a session at Queen’s Park.

But after hearing from a number of condominium corporations in his riding north of Toronto about dramatic increases to their insurance rates he felt he had to act.

“What they’re hearing from brokers is that the industry blames that on COVID claims and severe weather claims,” he said. “That’s just bogus … I mean, they can’t be having COVID claims yet, it’s just too early. They need to justify the need for these exorbitant rates.”

Wilson, who has held a seat in the legislature since 1990, said governments of all political stripes have promised and failed to regulate insurance rates because the industry has a powerful lobby.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever truly had the Ministry of Finance or the regulator take an independent look at what their finances are and get to the bottom of why rates are doubling,” he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has been advocating for further regulation of the industry during the pandemic, pressing the government to protect businesses.

“The insurance industry has been running amok in this province for years now,” she said.  “‘Mr. Phillips needs to step up to the plate and do something about it.”

Ford’s comments come after a group representing Ontario’s long-term care homes said the facilities are having trouble securing liability insurance for COVID-19, a situation which could force some of them to close.

Insurance Bureau of Canada: 40% of Calgary hailstorm claims still outstanding

 

“I have serious concerns about how many of these homeowners will get through the winter without having further damage to their homes and the high energy costs that they will face because their homes just aren’t as adequately protected.

“Many of these individuals work two jobs to make ends meet. So this is a challenge — on getting your kids to school, working about, aging family members or grandparents that may reside with you [and] fixing your home and being able to do all that, and having challenges working with insurance and then getting contractors to rebuild these homes.”

Pamela Fischer lives in Saddleridge. While she’s one of the luckier ones who recently had her home repaired, she’s concerned for her neighbours who are still waiting for repairs.

She and her husband Jason are part of the Hail Action Committee. They’re calling for more action from officials and want to see support in the way of a $5,000 interest-free loan available to all homeowners. They also want more resources made available.

“The community is still in the throes of recovery… There are kids in these homes. There’s generational families in these homes, and we’re [in the] middle of a pandemic. So not only that, how are they going to heat their homes? The whole home has been subjugated to outdoor conditions. It’s horrible,” Jason said.

In a statement, the province said it is continuing to encourage Albertans to work with their insurance providers.

“Calgarians have been hit hard by this disastrous hailstorm and our hearts go out to all those affected. Albertans pay insurance and rely on it for situations just like these. We continue to encourage Albertans to work with their insurance providers for damages caused by the storm, and our MLAs remain committed to assisting with this process,” municipal affairs press secretary Justin Marshall said.

READ MORE AT GLOBAL NEWS

Ontario to provide COVID 19 liability protection to workers and some organizations

Ontario to provide COVID 19 liability protection to workers and some organizations

By Shawn Jeffords and Liam Casey

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Health-care workers, businesses and non-profits could receive liability protection against COVID-19-related lawsuits under legislation proposed by the Ontario government Tuesday, but critics said the bill would result in extra protection for long-term care providers who failed residents during the pandemic.

Attorney General Doug Downey said that if passed, the proposed law would ensure that anyone making an “honest effort” to follow public health guidelines while working or volunteering would not be exposed to liability.

He noted, however, that the bill would not prevent lawsuits against those who willfully or through “gross negligence” endangered others during the pandemic.

“This is not going to help anybody who’s a bad actor, people who ignore the public health guidance,” he said. “This is really to help those who are doing things in good faith.”

The government said health-care workers and institutions, front line retail workers, charities, and non-profits would be covered by the bill. The legislation would also cover coaches, volunteers and minor sports associations, and would be retroactive to March.

In terms of long-term care providers, Downey said the bill would cover those who saw “inadvertent transmission” of COVID-19 in their facilities.

“Those who act in good faith and make honest efforts will receive a level of protection,” Downey said.

“But this will not help people who are being sued for wrongful death, assault and battery, or failure to provide necessities, or fraud or charter violations, or trespass to the person.”

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents more than 70 per cent of nursing homes in the province, has been asking for such measures for months, CEO Donna Duncan said.

The proposed law will not absolve any provider of responsibility when it comes to issues of gross negligence, she said.

“Liability protection is a necessary measure to stabilize and renew Ontario’s entire long-term care sector,” Duncan said in a statement. “Without it, many insurance companies will cease coverage, as they have already begun to do, putting homes across the province at risk and jeopardizing their expansion and renewal.”

COVID-19 has killed 1,907 long-term care residents since the pandemic began. There has been a recent surge of cases in the second wave, with 87 homes currently experiencing outbreaks.

Dozens of homes across the province face numerous lawsuits, including several class-action suits with unproven claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it supports the legislation, which it called balanced and responsible.

Steve Kee, a bureau spokesman, said the legislation illustrates the government’s support for entrepreneurs and hardworking Ontarians as they focus on getting through the COVID-19 threat.

“Today’s legislation is intended to protect the good actors _ those who follow public health guidelines _ from certain civil liability,” he said in a statement.

“As tabled, it would not protect bad actors against other legal consequences, including criminal charges.”

Michael Smitiuch, a personal injury lawyer who represents several families who are suing long-term care homes after losing loved ones to COVID-19, criticized the government’s proposed law.

“Losing a loved one during this pandemic because of mistreatment and lack of attention is already devastating to families, but having them die in vain will be even worse if they can’t seek justice for them,” Smitiuch said.

He said the government is essentially “raising the bar” on negligence to a “high degree of negligence.”

“This will create an unnecessary layer of protection for bad actors,” Smitiuch said. “These changes will help insurance companies save money and will hurt victims and their families.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was shocked by the new bill and that if a long-term care home failed in its duty to protect a resident, it should be liable.

“This bill protects the for-profit long-term care homes,” she said. “It protects the backside of the Ford government, but what they never did was protect the seniors in long-term care.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he is concerned that the bill will protect the “bad actors” the government says will still be held accountable.

“Negligent long-term care homes do not deserve a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card for the lives that were stolen on their watch,” he said in a statement.

 

Some long term care homes can’t get insurance, could be force to close

Some long term care homes can’t get insurance, could be force to close

By Liam Casey

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario’s long-term care homes are having trouble securing liability insurance for COVID-19, a situation that could force some of them to close, a group representing more than 70 per cent of the province’s homes says.

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association says its homes are being offered new policies without a key provision: coverage for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The association has now turned to the federal government for help, saying potential claims could place a burden on the homes’ finances, and loans could be denied over the lack of coverage.

“We’re operating in good faith trying to do the best we can, but we really do need help with this and we need help urgently,” said CEO Donna Duncan.

Previously, long-term care homes received $5-million to $10-million coverage for damages or claims related to infectious diseases, Duncan said.

Now, insurance companies are including a “contagious disease exclusion endorsement” in policies for the homes, she said.

COVID-19 and a laundry list of other diseases are specifically not covered, according to one policy obtained by The Canadian Press.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada, which represents the majority of insurance companies in the country, said coverage for losses related to communicable diseases is available in certain policies but isn’t easy to get.

“In an active pandemic environment, coverage for pandemic-related financial losses would naturally be extremely difficult to obtain,” spokesman Steve Kee said.

“This situation is akin to trying to get fire insurance when your house is on fire.”

Insurance companies continue to provide general liability insurance to long-term care homes, he said.

Duncan said some homes have already lost liability insurance against infectious diseases when they renewed their deals this summer.

Without that coverage, some homes are being refused loans and lines of credit, she said.

In one case, Duncan said, a small home that hasn’t had a single case of COVID-19 sought to build a new facility to get away from the three- and four-bedroom wards that have proven to be like death traps if COVID-19 got in. The facility needed financing to get the project going, but was denied money from a lender because of the lack of liability insurance for COVID-19, she said.

The lack of coverage against infectious diseases also leaves directors and members of boards personally liable to any legal action, Duncan said.

There are numerous lawsuits, including several class-action suits that have already been brought by grieving families against homes where residents died of COVID-19.

Duncan said the majority of homes have insurance renewals set for Dec. 31.

Her association has pleaded its case to the federal government in a letter sent late last week, asking Ottawa to provide a “backstop” and essentially insure the insurance companies.

“In consultation with insurers, reinsurance companies and major lenders, it is clear to us that long-term care is now essentially uninsurable for outbreaks,” Duncan wrote.

The insurance industry is open to the association’s federal government backstop idea, Kee said.

The Prime Minister’s Office referred questions to the Minister of Health, which did not answer questions about the request from the long-term care association.

A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government will work with the provinces “to set new, national standards for long-term care that ensure the health, safety, and well-being of residents.”

In Ontario, the majority of homes are for-profit, with the remainder not-for-profit or municipally owned.

Several experts questioned whether it is appropriate for taxpayers to insure for-profit insurance companies and thereby cover any claim against long-term care homes.

Tamara Daly, the director of the York University Centre for Aging Research and Education, said taxpayers providing insurance to the long-term care industry is not workable.

“I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction to publicly fund liability insurance,” she said.

Daly and Samir Sinha, the director of health policy research at the National Institute on Ageing and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said public money would be better spent fixing the long-term care home system in the province rather than fixing the insurance issues.

“If we dealt with the fundamental issues right off the beginning, if homes had enough staffing, enough PPE, they may not have been in the situation in the first place,” Sinha said.

More than 1,900 residents of long-term care homes have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit. The number of cases in the province’s 625 facilities are surging once again as the second wave takes hold, with outbreaks in 72 homes by mid-October.

 

 

Employment Insurance System Added 1.3 Million People After CERB Ended

OTTAWA ― The employment insurance system absorbed almost 1.3 million people in the last three weeks, new figures show, as a key COVID-19 benefit wound down.

A breakdown of applications for the simplified EI program shows that overall there had been more than 1.5 million claims as of late this past week, among them 1.15 million people who were automatically transferred when their emergency benefit ran out.

The figures are enormous for a system that in one day this month handled 246,000-plus claims. In the spring, officials worried the 87,000 applications on one March day would make the decades-old system burst its seams.

Figures obtained by The Canadian Press also show that more than 84 per cent of applications had been processed, which experts who reviewed the numbers noted was a positive sign for the transition off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, better known as the CERB.

Couple that with the more than 300,000 people who turned to a suite of new benefits on the first day they were available, and the figures provide a hint at the ongoing need for income support even as employment has picked up.

Figures on claims can be “valuable in providing a partial, real-time assessment″ of the impact COVID-19 has on the labour force, officials wrote to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in April.

At the time, they were writing in a briefing note about providing regular updates on CERB recipients and payments as “the labour market landscape continues to evolve across the country.”

READ MORE HERE: 

Source: Huffington Post

 

Nest Forest School was set to open this week with 10 children enrolled

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