You have always had to opt in for insurance on a new phone purchase. It was never automatic. Each time I make a phone purchase, I am asked if I want the insurance to which I answer a resounding NO. There is NO reason why Verizon, or Assurion in particular, to change from "automatically" adding insurance for a new phone purchase. This is for the vast majority of policy holders a cash cow for Assurion and even Verizon who I assume gets a percentage of the premiums.
Most people will never need or use the insurance. What reason would Verizon/Assurion have to not continue charging for the insurance if that were indeed the policy. IF it was the policy, it was surely changed when Verizon started selling the iPhone, as you have claimed, due to pressure by Apple to favor the consumer opting instead for Apple Care, Apples brand of cell phone insurance.