On the Michigan Bridge
Car accident victims and providers could be dealt another blow in changing Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance law when Democrats take control of the Legislature in January.
A 2019 law introducing major changes to Michigan insurance policies gave drivers the ability to choose coverage levels. The reform aimed to reduce the state’s highest auto insurance costs and cut average premiums to $2,639 in 2021 from $3,096 in 2019.
But the law also reduced by 45 percent the amount that health care providers can charge for reimbursement for services to accident survivors not covered by Medicare — a change that advocates say hinders patients’ access to high-quality care.
A total of 4,082 health care worker jobs have been eliminated since 2021, while 6,857 crash patients have been released from care since the policy took effect, a study by the Michigan Institute of Public Health found.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she expects conversations about ways to fix the law to begin early next year. “This is where work needs to be done to ensure that people who are injured can get the support they have paid for. I’m interested in pursuing that.”
The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association — an industry-led nonprofit that collects annual fees from Michigan motorists to cover medical care for accident victims — reduced its fees and issued reimbursement checks of $400 per vehicle to Michigan drivers at Whitmer’s insistence after 2019 law.
The association recently raised its new annual vehicle assessments to at least $48 per vehicle per year, following a recent Court of Appeals ruling that said patients who began receiving care for auto injuries before the 2019 law passed cannot subject to change. This determination is appealed.
Although reform advocates say the decision has relieved some of the pressure, they are still pushing for legislative changes. “What we’re really looking for is a legislative solution that makes this all moot and we can just get back to restoring continuity of care for crash victims,” said Tom Judd, president of the Brain Injury Providers Council of Michigan.
Rep. Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo, is a physical therapist who has worked with people who have been catastrophically injured and a longtime supporter of legislation to fix the fee schedule outlined in the 2019 law.
“No-fault car issues are life and death,” Rogers said. “For me, that makes it really rise to the top of the list of things that need to be fixed.”
Supporters of the existing law say the changes are a difficult but necessary trade-off to cut costs.
In a statement provided to Bridge Michigan, Insurance Alliance of Michigan Director Erin McDonough said the 2019 reforms have made insurance more affordable for tens of thousands of drivers and means Michigan is no longer the most expensive state to buy car insurance. insurance.
Ensuring that those injured in car crashes get the medical care they need remains a priority for insurers, McDonagh said, adding that the 2019 law marks Michigan’s first attempt to create checks and balances on medical costs.
“We are pushing for a broader view to ensure that savings for Michigan consumers remain protected as the Legislature and governor pursue any assessment of reforms,” she said.
If Whitmer and future lawmakers can come up with a solution that makes changes to the law without compromising the savings, current House Speaker Jason Wentworth said there’s no problem — but none of the plans that have been proposed so far would this, he said.
He has no intention of raising the issue during the parliamentary session before the start of the new term next year.
“If there’s a sweet spot to fix the perceived problem that’s there, I’m willing to look at it from day one,” the Clare Republican said. “I’ve never been presented with a plan that actually fixes this and still preserves the savings.” So if they can get through the next term, then great.”
William Brooke, an Erie GOP representative whose home care business had two clients affected by the policy change, said one of his priorities is to find ways to fix legislation that has “good intentions” but has a negative impact on businesses and residents.
The 2019 law “has had some good results in terms of more people now having car insurance, but there have also been some negative effects,” he said.
“We don’t do a lot of auto cases, but we had two clients in particular who had their rates reduced by almost 60 percent, so that didn’t allow us to take care of them,” he said. “We’re not alone in this… I’m definitely willing to look into this.”
Rogers said that while he believes the main focus should be on the needs of accident victims and their caregivers, it’s worth considering other changes that could make car insurance less expensive.
“The whole focus of why this was done in the first place was on insurance rates, right?” Rogers said. “The intent of the change in the law, which was the lower rate for everyone, didn’t really come into effect, and so I think we still have to look at ways to reduce costs.”