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The Practical Mind

WINNING THE INSURANCE GAME by Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith (Knightsbridge Publishing: $24.95; 560 pp.)

September 02, 1990|KAREN STABINER

While the reasons for ruinous insurance rates in the United States are complicated--doctors, auto-repair shops, contractors who do home repair, and lawyers, always lawyers, piously pointing to each other as the primary contributing factor--the fact is that billions of dollars are taken out of the consumer economy and poured down the dark hole of insurance premiums. Health-care premiums are so high that about 37 million Americans cannot afford health insurance (including many working for companies too small to be able to pay the bloated premiums); inflated auto-coverage premiums mean that even state laws making such insurance mandatory don't work. Millions of Californians drive without insurance, leaving the rest of us to buy additional insurance to cover their accidents.

Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith have written a book with a somewhat misleading title: While it is an unquestionably useful guide for consumers who must buy insurance but don't know the difference between, say, term and cash-value life-insurance policies, it is not sufficient for "winning" the insurance game. The authors provide a foundation, but they don't tell you enough to help you find the best deal.

You can learn what to look for in a policy, what its various clauses mean and which consumer organizations will help you out. But the book does not evaluate either the policies offered by individual companies or their records on, for example, the frequency of rate raises--the sort of information that is crucial to someone shopping for a policy.

With that caveat, it is still a book that everyone needs, because it provides answers to fundamental questions, and enables the reader to make sense of the system as it now exists.

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