How to choose Medical Payments, Personal Injury Protection & Uninsured Motorists coverage

Important question: What happens if you get injured in a car accident? What car insurance coverages should you have to protect yourself and make sure you have the cash you need to cover bills? Don't know?

That's why it's time for Part 3 of our series.

So far, we’ve talked about liability, which covers the other person and their property if you cause an accident. We’ve also discussed collision and comprehensive, which cover damages to your car from pretty much every incident imaginable. But today we’re going to talk what happens if you get hurt in an accident. If you’ve ever received a medical bill, you know that medical costs can add up–and if you have to worry about medical expenses for other people in your car too? Yikes.

The good news is that there are car insurance coverages you can get to help pay for those medical expenses so you’re not stuck paying out of pocket. The less good news is that there are a few different types, so you may be confused about which you might want or need.

So let’s dive in. Here’s what you need to know about medical payments, personal injury protection, and uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury coverages.

Car insurance for medical expenses

"What exactly is personal injury protection coverage?"

First things first. Do you live in a no-fault state? If you do, this coverage is required for you, so read on! (If you don’t live in a no-fault state, PIP may or may not be offered to you, depending on your state and insurance carrier.)

Anyway, personal injury protection (PIP) pays for any medical expenses you or your passengers incur as a result of an accident, regardless of who caused the accident. It covers expenses like hospital stays, surgery, doctor visits, and even lost wages and funeral expenses.

What’s important to note here is that if you are in an accident that someone else caused, PIP will still pay out first. You don’t have to wait around for fault to be established to get your medical expenses covered. If the expenses go beyond your PIP coverage, that’s when the other person’s liability coverage kicks in.

Quick sidenote: some states give you the option for a lower rate if you decline your right to sue or be sued in the case of an accident—if you choose to go this route, just know that the other person's liability would not cover any additional expenses.

"Okay, so what is medical payments coverage?"

Medical payments coverage (also known as MedPay) will cover any medical expenses you or your family members incur in an accident, regardless of who caused the accident. The big differences between PIP and MedPay are that a) MedPay is not usually required and b) if the other person caused the accident, their liability pays for your injuries first. (By the way, if fault is not determined right away, you can have your MedPay pay out immediately to take care of your medical expenses.)

But what’s super important here is that MedPay covers you if you cause an accident and you or your family members get hurt. Without it, you could be paying for any and all of those expenses out of your own bank account (talk about adding insult to injury…yep). MedPay covers things like ambulance rides, hospital stays, surgery, X-rays, and funeral expenses so that you don’t have to. It does not cover all the same things as PIP—for example, it won’t cover lost wages or rehab needs.

Also interesting to note: this type of car insurance coverage actually follows the policyholder. That means if you get hurt riding your bike or crossing the street, you’d be covered by your MedPay.

"Do I have to get medical payments coverage?"

The short answer? Nope. Unless you live in Maine or New Hampshire, in which case the answer is actually yes—it’s required in your states.

"So do I also need Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury coverage?"

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UM/UIM) is used specifically when the other person is at fault for an accident, but they are either uninsured (which is illegal by the way) or underinsured. Underinsured basically means their bodily injury limits are too low to cover all of your medical expenses.

Car accident

This is an optional coverage, so it’s all about how comfortable you are with your insurance rates and what you might have to pay out of pocket. PIP would cover your expenses in this situation and UM/UIM would be supplemental if expenses went above your PIP limits.

If you don’t have PIP or MedPay, UM/UIM is a good option to ensure you are covered should you be injured by an uninsured driver. The reality is that one in seven drivers on the road is uninsured, so while it sucks to pay for extra coverage to account for people who don’t pay for any, at least you know you’re covered.

You may see UM/UIM offered together or separately as UM and UIM. It just depends on your state and what it requires.

"Okay then, how much coverage would I need with MedPay, PIP, and UM/UIM?"

Once again, it’s all about how much risk you’re willing to take on and what you are willing—or able—to pay for your car insurance.

When you choose your MedPay, PIP, and UM/UIM coverage, you choose limits. For MedPay and PIP, this is the amount your insurance carrier will pay out to cover any injuries per person. For UM/UIM, you'll pick a max amount your insurer will pay per person, as well as a max they'll pay per incident. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because these limits work the same as liability.) If the costs go beyond the limit you choose, you may end up paying the extra costs yourself.

You can choose to either pay a higher insurance rate to guarantee more coverage in the case of an accident, or you can pay a lower insurance rate if you’re willing to risk having less coverage. It’s totally up to you.

But wait...there’s a little more to the story. Some no-fault states do offer a deductible for PIP. In those cases, you would select both a deductible—the amount you pay before your insurer takes over—as well as a limit, the max your insurer will pay out per incident.

"Wouldn’t my health insurance cover my injuries?"

Maybe! We’re glad you asked, because health insurance is actually another consideration for choosing your car insurance coverage.

Health insurance

If you have health insurance, hey, that’s fantastic. And it may cover injuries from a car accident. But it may not, so you absolutely need to check your health plan.

So let’s say you have health insurance and it will cover injuries from a car accident. Do you have a high deductible? Having MedPay, PIP, or UM/UIM could save you from having to pay for your health insurance deductible in the case of an accident because they pay out first. Pretty useful, actually. You would only need to use your health insurance if costs exceeded your limit.

You should also think about the fact that your health insurance only covers you. Without MedPay, PIP, or UM/UIM, it is possible you could get stuck paying for your passengers’ medical expenses in an accident.

So yes, while your health insurance may cover you in case of an accident, make sure to consider all the factors in deciding about MedPay, PIP, or UM/UIM.

"Can you just tell me what to do? Pretty please?"

We know this is a lot, and having different options for coverages that pay for similar things can be confusing. Luckily the Root car insurance app makes this all much easier by letting you know what’s required in your state and what’s optional. You can also play around with different limits for these coverages to see just how much it changes your insurance rate. It’s super simple to do. Then you can settle on the amount of MedPay, PIP or UM/UIM coverage you feel comfortable with at a rate that makes sense for you.

Download the app now

Seriously—the Root app is awesome. Give it a shot.

Guess what? You've made it through three parts and are almost a car insurance expert. But...not quite. The last step is to move on to Part 4, rental coverage and roadside assistance.

Let's head for the finish line.

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