Auto No Fault Bills See Bipartisan Support in Senate As DIFS Opposes
Significant changes to the state’s 2019 auto no-fault law cleared the Senate Thursday with some bipartisan support as the Department of Insurance and Financial Services is raising concerns about the potential for increased costs for drivers as a result.

Supporters said the catastrophically injured need their coverage restored as many specialized providers for those injured in car accidents have decried the reimbursement changes as making it impossible for them to provide care.

Those opposing the bills referenced the state still having among the highest auto insurance premiums nationally and the hit to pocketbooks of families already stung by inflation if the bills were signed into law. A reduction in the auto insurance marketplace was also cited as a result that could further increase premiums.

Indeed, the Department of Insurance and Financial Services, which opposes the legislation, provided testimony Wednesday to that effect to a Senate committee as it reported the bills.

A department’s position usually – but not always – indicates the governor’s position on the bills.

Senators voted 23-14 for the three bills (SB 530 , SB 531 and SB 575 ) following debate over the merits and effect of the policy changes, with crossover from both sides of the aisle. The legislation affects those catastrophically injured since the 2019 law took effect. Those injured before the new law saw their health benefits restored in the Michigan Supreme Court’s Andary ruling earlier this year.

The bills would reverse the 45 percent cut to traumatic injury clinics and restore pay for family members providing attendant care.

Four Republicans voted in favor of the bills: Sen. Jon Bumstead of North Muskegon, Sen. John Damoose of Harbor Springs, Sen. Ruth Johnson of Groveland Township and Sen. Rick Outman of Six Lakes. One Democrat, Sen. Sylvia Santana of Detroit, voted against the package. One member, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), did not vote on any of the bills.

Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township), chair of the Senate Finance, Insurance and Consumer Protection Committee from which the bills were reported Wednesday, said the package would help address what she called unintended consequences of the 2019 law.

"These bills seek to answer the uncertainty these survivors have faced for far too long," Cavanagh said. "Adjusting the reimbursement system for specialized care and supporting facility, at-home care or specialized treatment by those we love and trust ensures sustainability, quality and access to medically necessary care and improves quality of life for Michigan auto accident survivors who are adjusting to their new normal."

Cavanagh said the legislation would ensure access to care, something all drivers pay into.

Damoose spoke of beginning to listen to individual stories of the catastrophically injured who came regularly to the Capitol over the past few years to share their issues with the law changes. He said he refused to wait another year or legislative session to do nothing and see those whose lives have been turned upside down suffer.

"Even if we fix this today some of the damage is permanent and cannot be undone," Damoose added.

Opponents were not convinced that the positives touted by supporters would outweigh the fiscal hit by large numbers of insured motorists.

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township), who sponsored the auto no-fault rewrite (PA 21 of 2019 ), said Michigan has created a more competitive market with the 2019 law’s enactment with additional providers entering the state to offer coverage.

"Since that time Michigan drivers have seen cost savings," Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt, who cited the DIFS letter to committee members this week, said if the legislation is passed and signed by the governor, costs will increase for policyholders.

"The director made it quite clear, that if the bill passes, drivers can count on the following: an increase in auto insurance premiums, an increase in the catastrophic claims for vehicle assessment, less coverage for lower PIP levels, increased rates leading to more uninsured drivers and less competition in the marketplace," Nesbitt said.

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) called the bills "a wholesale overhaul of the no-fault fee schedule, one of the key cost-saving provisions of the 2019 reform."

Theis urged members to review the content of the bills and consider the cost increases the proposed changes could trigger for millions of drivers in the state including those who have lower incomes.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said a key responsibility for the Legislature is to revisit laws that need improvements.

"For me, it is about what we can do to ensure that people who are disabled by catastrophic accidents are simply able to live with dignity," Brinks said. "By passing these bills we can better serve the people of our state, especially those who have been in life-changing accidents."

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) spoke against the proposed changes, saying the directive his constituents gave him on auto insurance is to reduce costs.

"It’s too expensive. It’s ridiculously expensive. It is insanely expensive in this state," McBroom said.

McBroom added in the Upper Peninsula it is noticeable every with people with far lower rates in bordering states. He then unloaded in remarks on the proposals before the body.

"How can it be that 49 other states in this country can do so much better than we do? It’s not excusable and now we’re dealing with this pile of junk," McBroom said.

Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) urged passage of the package, referring to the stories of those who have been catastrophically injured and have lost or had reductions in their care when the 2019 law became effective.

"These people did not ask to be in auto accidents. They did not ask to have politicians, regardless of their motives, make decisions that would impact their lives forever," Anthony said.

Anthony said the Legislature can both lower rates and ensure coverage for those with catastrophic injuries.

The bills were reported Wednesday from committee with changes to SB 530 that would reinstate the Medicare reimbursement tiers, with hospitals receiving the 2021 agreed upon rates and the indigent care tiers being reevaluated every three years.

The Medicare reimbursement rate in the original version of SB 530 would have been increased to 250 percent for all hospitals and change the existing four-tier system for Medicare reimbursement to a single tier.

Under the existing no-fault law, hospitals receive 200 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate while those with indigent populations of 30 percent or more receive 250 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate.

Cavanagh told reporters about the catastrophically injured she would see while working as a direct care worker, saying now she and other members find themselves in a unique position to make a difference.

"I’m excited to really give some of these individuals and these families some relief where we can also make sure that premiums are at a low cost for other Michiganders," Cavanagh said.

Anthony told reporters some members have been wanting to address the 2019 law changes since they were passed, and it was up to the majority to follow through on campaign promises to make auto no-fault a priority.

"This is a part of the majority is actually leading," Anthony said. "It’s not just about cost savings; it’s about saving people’s lives. People have actually lost their lives because we’ve got politicians in the House and the Senate, have done nothing."

Insurance Alliance of Michigan Executive Director Erin McDonough in a statement said the proposed changes will result in a hit to Michigan family’s wallets.

"While we urged caution and careful consideration to the consequences this legislation would have on Michigan’s 7.2 million drivers, the Senate today steamed ahead with a plan that could cost drivers at least $865 million and potentially over $1 billion every year," McDonough said. "More than 2 million Michigan drivers have chosen personal injury protection coverage other than unlimited, which means the unchecked medical costs included in the Senate bills will eat away at those policies faster. We urge the Michigan House to slow down and consider these consequences more fully."

Groups who have supported amending the 2019 law in statements urged to keep moving on getting the bills before the governor as soon as possible.

"For over two years, crash survivors, their family members and support systems, providers of essential rehabilitation services and care, and disability advocates at the state and federal levels have pleaded for a narrow fix to the auto no-fault law so that crash victims have access to the care they need," Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council Executive Director Tom Judd said. "This solution is well overdue, but it is never too late to save lives and restore the promise of recovery and care drivers are promised."

Whitmer Signs 8 Health Care Bills Guaranteeing ACA in Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed eight bills today that sponsors say made it harder for the federal government or Supreme Court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” in Michigan. 
Whitmer signed HB 4619, HB 4620, HB 4621, HB 4622, HB 4623, SB 356, SB 357, and SB 358 which each tackle a specific portion of the ACA, signed into law by former President Barack OBAMA in 2010, to codify into state law.

“The ACA includes critical provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more, allows kids to stay on their parent’s insurance until they turn 26, and guarantees essential services in all health insurance plans,” Whitmer said.

Reps. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) and Kimberly Edwards (D-Eastpointe) sponsored the bills to prevent denying coverage because of discrimination or pre-existing conditions. 

Rep. John Fitzgerald (D-Wyoming) sponsored the bill to require coverage of dependents until age 26.

Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Belleville) sponsored the bill to ban institution of annual or lifetime funding limits from insurers.

“Prior to the implementation of the federal ACA, insurance providers had every right to implement annual and lifetime caps on health care coverage,” Miller said. “These providers had the freedom to decide that coverage for things like cancer were too expensive, and people could be hit with an annual cap on their coverage.”

Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) sponsored the legislation to require insurance coverage of hospitalization, pregnancy and emergency services.

Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.)’s bill prohibited insurance providers from pulling coverage.

Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) sponsored a bill to require a summary of a health insurance policy and coverage.

Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) backed the bill that requires how much coverage insurance providers had to give Michiganders.

“Before the ACA’s passage, too many Michiganders were denied access to health insurance due to pre-existing conditions,” Klinefelt said. “Since its implementation, Michigan residents have enjoyed increased access to quality coverage – including access to lifesaving preventative care such as cancer screening.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes thanked Whitmer and all of the legislators who championed the legislation. She said she believes Michigan law would lower health care costs.

“Michigan Democrats are committed to putting the health of Michiganders before the profits of the drug companies by banning discrimination and removing lifetime care caps,” Barnes said.

Changes Coming for Senate Economic Development Bills
A Senate committee panel last Thursday discussed ongoing changes to bills that supporters say would improve the state’s economic outlook and provide businesses and Michigan residents with more opportunities.

The Senate Economic and Community Development Committee  heard more testimony on the Good Jobs bills, SB 579 , SB 580 and SB 581 , and the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund bills, SB 559 , SB 560 , SB 561 and SB 562 . The first set of bills would revive the Good Jobs for Michigan program and modify the program’s qualifications for an eligible business and certified new jobs, increase the wage requirements, decrease the required number of jobs and require those jobs to be permanent, full-time positions.

Committee members were provided with pages of substitutes, and Chair Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) said she would allow members and stakeholders to have time to read and review the bills. Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township), sponsor of SB 580, said the substitutes allowed for more inclusivity of novelty and smaller businesses.

Jennifer Hayes, senior vice present of operations and public policy for Invest Detroit, said one of the organization’s big goals is to revitalize the city and these bills would be a good step forward.

There was mixed testimony during the committee for SB 559, SB 560, SB 561 and SB 562. The bills would rename the SOAR Fund to the Make it in Michigan Fund and would require the Michigan Strategic Fund to operate the Michigan 360 program and modify the scope of the Michigan Strategic Site Readiness program.

Tim Bartik, senior economist with the Upjohn Institute, testified in support of the bills. He said states should be shifting their mix of what they do to include a greater emphasis on various customized business services, like infrastructure, customized job training and business advice programs.

Bartik said the Make It In Michigan Fund proposes 20 percent of the fund goes into these types of services which is a step in the right direction.

"An absolutely key thing to do is to make sure that you don’t just create jobs and don’t just create good jobs, but to make sure that Michigan residents…who are unemployed, underemployed can get those jobs," Bartik said, saying targeting the stress counties versus targeting the booming counties ensures more unemployed people have access to those jobs.

The state can tie a job creation program to job training programs and other neighborhood programs so that people can get into the hiring queue, Bartik added.

Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Quentin Messer, Jr, said the bills would attract financial and human capital, saying several times throughout his testimony that Michigan needs to cultivate and revitalize places to attract people and projects.

Smaller businesses, Messer said, can take advantage of the community revitalization grants the state provides.

Sen. Jonathan Lindsey (R-Coldwater) asked about the "very long list" of criteria a company must meet to receive funding from MEDC. One of the criteria requires the consideration of the amount of local community and financial support for the project. What does it mean, Linsey asked.

Messer said many projects come from local and regional economic development partners. By coming through that door, they are pre-vetted for local support, Messer said.

There are also site selectors who advise companies where they should allocate their funds. Coming from either a site selector or a local economic development partner, Messer said that particular criteria about local support has been satisfied.

Mike Johnston, the executive vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said they were concerned the proposals do not meet the standard for competitiveness. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of considerations under the Critical Industry Program and the Michigan Strategic Site Readiness Program, he said.

"We just think the list is getting long and probably not competitive in the marketplace compared to the offerings of other states," Johnston said.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) asked if the list of considerations had gotten longer, how would that make the state less competitive if there are more opportunities to qualify.

Johnston said if there are 32 considerations under the Critical Industry Program and the applicant must meet the majority of them. McMorrow, one of the bill sponsors, said they are working to clarify that language and recognize the different sizes and types of projects within both programs.

Lindsey Case Palsrok, vice president of government affairs for the Business Leaders of Michigan, said her organization shares some of the same concerns as MMA. She said talent was the number one way to attract businesses and there needs to be a continued investment in K-12 outcomes.

The state is below the national average for labor force participation and getting people to fill new jobs is ultimately the goal.

"We just want to encourage you to keep the criteria for qualifying as simple as possible," Palsrok said.


Left: Senator Mat and Diane Dunaskiss were joined by Sheriff Michael Bouchard and his wife, Pamela, at the Common Ground Celebration of Hope Gala last weekend

Right: Also joining Senator Mat and his wife at the Common Ground Celebration of Hope were State Representative Tom Kuhn and his wife, Sherry; as well as Randy Carter and State Representative Brenda Carter.


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