County execs reject no-fault reform proposal

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county executives presented a united front earlier this week in opposing changes in the state’s no-fault auto insurance laws as recently proposed by Michigan House Speaker Rep. Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

“Together, we are sending a powerful message to Lansing to urge our legislators to stand against big insurance companies overturning the will of the people,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “Speaker Bolger calls the new bill a ‘compromise.’ I call it a death sentence for individuals recovering from catastrophic injuries.”

Patterson was severely injured in an auto accident 19 months ago and currently receives physical therapy three times a week to strengthen his legs so he would no longer have to use a wheelchair.

Patterson was joined by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano at the press conference Monday at Walk the Line to SCI (spinal cord injury) Recovery, a rehabilitation facility in Southfield that works with accident victims as they recover from serious injuries.

“By upholding the current no-fault law, we are taking a stand for the quality of life of our citizens involved in catastrophic automotive accidents,” Ficano said. “While the proposed changes to House Bill 4612 tout that they would save Michigan drivers money on their insurance policies, it comes at the expense of catastrophic accident victims receiving the long-term care they so desperately need.”

Bolger’s office called the three executives’ opposition to the bill “disheartening.”

“The members of our caucus hear all the time that insurance is too expensive,” said Anna Heaton, the Speaker’s deputy press secretary. “We had a town hall last week where people repeatedly said they couldn’t afford their auto insurance. We went back to last year’s bill and addressed every single concern that was raised and people still don’t want to the table and work on it with us.”

Michigan’s system is the most generous in the nation. All drivers pay into the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Administration, which manages lifetime benefits for people injured in car crashes.

Republicans in the House were determined to pass no-fault auto insurance reform in 2013, but committee hearings attracted strong citizen opposition to the changes by those who had been severely injured in accidents and had benefited from the system. Democrats persuaded enough Republicans to cross the aisle to stop the measure in the House.

The new plan would eliminate Michigan’s unlimited lifetime benefits for persons catastrophically injured in car crashes and implement a $10-million cap.

It also would require insurance companies provide a guarantee of 10 percent savings on auto insurance premiums for the first two years.

Bolger contends that the $10-million cap would not only reduce the annual assessment charged by the MCCA, but that it would also cover the majority of people injured in accidents.

The highest MCCA claim, he said, has been $12.7 million, and only a small group of people have gone beyond $10 million.

Patterson and other critics of the measure also are wary of the figures Bolger and other Republicans are using to support their proposal.

“The lack of transparency by the MCCA is astounding,” Patterson said. “Until we see the books and actuarial tables, we cannot have a serious discussion on how to improve auto no-fault in Michigan.”

Patterson had harsh words for the bill. “It’s hard to come out against a reform,” he said. “Reforms rank up there with motherhood and apple pie. But this isn’t broken. One man’s reform is another man’s death sentence.”

Heaton said Patterson’s attack was unwarranted.

“Number one, Brooks Patterson doesn’t receive treatment through the auto insurance system. He receives treatments through the workers comp system,” she said. “He’s become this ‘media darling’ on the issue, but he doesn’t even participate in it.”

The plan also would develop a low-cost insurance plan with a cap of $50,000 of coverage for low-income residents. But the plan does not address higher rates charged by insurance companies for people with low credit scores or living in urban ZIP codes.