Experts say Michigan’s “two-party success” on flawless reform is truly a “two-party failure” as people lose their care
When Michigan lawmakers, the mayor of Detroit and the state governor gathered on Mackinac Island on May 30, 2019 to celebrate his signing of the no-fault insurance reform bill that came from to be adopted, the mood was almost dizzying. It sometimes felt like a family reunion, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer praised the all-party effort to make sweeping changes to Michigan’s auto insurance system.
“When we see ourselves as people, as Michiganders, we can focus on getting things done,” Whitmer said. “When I know that (Senate Majority Leader) Mike Shirkey comes home for dinner with Sue in Jackson every night, or (then Speaker of the House) Lee Chatfield and his in-laws … When we first see ourselves as Michiganders, we are capable of great things, and that doesn’t end today. “
It was truly a remarkable event. After all, Republican-majority legislatures, under Republican governors, had tried and failed to do the same thing for more than two decades. And now Democrats are joining Republicans in doing what those previous administrations couldn’t.
At the time, Michigan had the highest premiums in the country and Detroit the highest premiums of any city in the country. There are several reasons for this, but the state’s lifetime medical coverage for catastrophic accidents takes all the blame.
The new law would allow people to choose less coverage, which could lower their premiums.
But even as she praised the promising two-party future she envisioned, Whitmer pretended not to heed the warning signs of the bill she was about to sign.
“It’s not perfect, as the majority leader said, but it’s a big step forward and we will continue this march.”
Both sides assured that they would correct the law if necessary later. But Republican leaders in the House and Senate have reneged on those assurances.
Now the catastrophically injured Michiganders – who likely number in the thousands, lawyers say – are losing care because the law allows insurance companies to pay their long-term care providers less than the cost of care, and providers go bankrupt.
In some cases, desperate survivors had nowhere to go other than the hospital.
State Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) says it breaks her heart as families and caregivers push catastrophic survivors in their wheelchairs through the halls of the State Capitol every week, begging help.
“We have had legislation (introduced) to address this,” she said. “It was not taken back, and it will hurt – this is causing horrible damage to vulnerable people. “
McMorrow voted “no” on the bill without fail, although a majority of his fellow Democrats voted yes. She says the process was rushed, sloppy and one-sided from the start.
Far-reaching changes to several no-fault laws have been crammed into one bill. At a hearing, she was only allowed to ask one of 28 questions she had about the bill. And as to who was allowed to testify before the Senate Insurance and Banking Committee?
“All of the hearings were for insurance companies,” McMorrow said, “and we didn’t hear from families or people affected.”
She said earlier versions of the bill did not include a retroactive clause, which would allow insurance companies to reduce payments for catastrophic care before 2019.
The final bill did.
Steve Sinas is a personal injury lawyer at Sinas Dramus law firm that handles cases without fail. He was on Capitol Hill the day of the special voting session. He says lawmakers saw the final bill about an hour before the vote. It was 120 pages long.
“So many lawmakers have told me that, they haven’t had time to read it,” Sinas said.
“They’ve been told to vote for it and be okay with it. I don’t think anyone should agree with bills that are passed without being read by the people who pass them.”
Steve Sinas, Personal Injury Lawyer at Sinas Dramus Law Firm
Sinas says the law was initially hailed as a bipartisan success. But he heard people later describe it as a bipartisan failure. He said there were other bills that could have addressed the issue of excessively high premiums, without depriving accident survivors of necessary medical care, but Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton) refused to hold hearings on bills.
Governor Whitmer has since called on the state legislature to correct the law. But Wayne State University law professor Wayne Miller, a no-fault expert, says Whitmer should never have signed him in the first place because she knew – or should have known – it would have a devastating effect. on road accident patients.
He says he and other no-fault experts were called to the governor’s office a day before the vote.
“We thought we were called for an emergency conference, like ‘We’re about to make a deal, we want your advice and we want you to look at what we’ve written.’ It was nothing like that, ”he said. “It was a done deal.”
Instead of a meeting with the governor’s main negotiator, a staff member handed them a copy of the final bill.
Frankly speaking, everyone freaked out when they saw what was in it.
“We said, ‘Oh my God,’” Miller remembers, because they could immediately see that Bill would destroy the entire Michigan care system for survivors of catastrophic car accidents – not just former survivors, but all of those who go ahead.
Miller says they urged governor’s aides not to let her sign the bill. They tried to slow down the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and Senate.
“But these lawmakers were too stupid or indifferent to let this snowball coming down the hill to be examined by people who knew what they were talking about,” he said.
Two years later, hope for a lasting bipartisan spirit in passing the new law has faded. Detroit’s auto insurance premiums are still the highest of any city in the country, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
Senator McMorrow has said that although the governor has called for a solution, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Senate Banking and Insurance Committee chair Lana Theis will not be out. OK.
She said some of her fellow Democrats had been promised hearings on bills they were interested in, if they voted “yes” on the reform bill without fail. She said they never had these hearings. Assurances from Shirkey and Theis that there would be opportunities to correct the hastily drafted law then turned out to be equally unsuccessful.
“I think the reality is they don’t care,” McMorrow said. “And this is something that is very difficult for me to struggle with. And there is a level of comfort with just lying.”
Lawyer Steve Sinas said his biggest fear was what might happen over time. Because it is so easy and so normal for people to go about their business and forget the stories they hear about how the new law leaves road accident survivors without care.
“Then we forget what happened in 2019 with these laws, and we just accept them,” Sinas said. “Oh, we have to move on. This is the new system. And we don’t stop to think, have we really helped people? And if we remember all the stories that come out, the answer goes. just be so clear that we are hurting more people than we are helping with these laws. ”
We asked Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Senator Shirkey, Senator Theis, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for interviews for this story. Their offices did not respond.