Sixteen months after it shelved Bill 40, an act to amend B.C.'s dated Insurance Act, the B.C. legislature is now pressing ahead with insurance reform in Bill 6, the Insurance Amendment Act, 2009, introduced on Sept. 15, 2009.
"The proposed amendments will improve coverage for consumers, ensure better access to documents, and enhance dispute-resolution mechanisms," B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said in a press release. "They are the result of ongoing review and consultation with consumers, insurance companies, insurance brokers and members of the legal community."
Under the proposed legislation, insurance companies will be required to put in place internal complaint resolution procedures and offer consumers access to ombudsman-type services if disputes cannot be resolved internally.
The limitation period in which consumers can make legal claims against insurance companies will be increased to two years from one.
Also, the language of the Insurance Act has been amended to make sure that fire coverage includes fires resulting from any cause, except those that are specifically excluded by regulation. "In addition to improved protection, this change will provide consumers with more consistency across insurers," the B.C. government says.
The amendments are also designed to protect an "innocent co-insured" who may be denied coverage due to the wrongdoing of another person.
The B.C. government says further amendments "respond to insurance industry needs" by reducing red tape, as well as improving efficiency by removing unnecessary requirements and clarifying the legislation.
"For example, there will now be one set of provisions applicable to all property contracts, thereby avoiding the need to classify the insurance contract as a fire contract or a multi-peril contract," the government says in its release.
The British Columbia Insurance Act sets out the requirements for insurance contracts, including life, health and property insurance in British Columbia, but does not regulate automobile insurance contracts, which are covered by a separate statute.
Proposed changes also include the repeal of the Insurance (Marine) Act. "Marine insurance contracts are exclusively a matter of federal jurisdiction, and are subject to the federal Marine Insurance Act," the government notes in its release.