Ontario announced yesterday it wants to allow drivers to buy reduced insurance coverage to keep premiums down, a move welcomed by insurance companies but one that lawyers and health care providers warned could see accident victims forced to pay for their own care.

Ontario will lower the minimum medical and rehabilitation coverage for auto insurance to $50,000 from the current $100,000 in an effort to keep rate increases from going even higher, which the opposition parties warned could leave drivers without adequate protection.

Motorists could still purchase $100,000 or even $1 million in non-catastrophic medical and rehabilitation benefits if they choose after the proposed changes come into effect next summer, said Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

“People can lower their premiums based on their choices, but the Ontario basic policy is, in fact, still one of the best in the country,” he said.

“We believe that this will hold the line over the next few years on rate of growth in premiums.”

Ontario’s basic auto insurance package would provide drivers with a $500 deductible, but they would still have the choice of buying a $300 or even a zero deductible. It would also include $200,000 in third-party liability coverage, even though 99 per cent of drivers currently purchase more than that mandatory minimum.