Michigan lawmakers eye tweaks to auto insurance reform that has cut rates
- Michigan drivers pay less on average for auto insurance, but costs still higher than most of the country, especially in Detroit
- Crash survivors and their health care providers say changes to medical reimbursement, caps on care payments for family members necessary for quality care
- Key House Democrat believes Senate legislation changing auto insurance law ‘would turn the clock back on reform and raise costs’
Michigan lawmakers could revisit the state’s auto insurance law next year to improve care for crash survivors and reduce rates in high-cost areas, but some fear any changes could raise bills that have fallen since the system was overhauled in 2019.
In the years since changes to Michigan’s auto no-fault system took effect, most Michigan drivers are, on average, paying less — a recent MarketWatch analysis found rates have decreased by an average of nearly 18 percent statewide since 2021.
But Michigan insurance remains some of the most expensive in the nation, with average annual premiums of $2,140, nearly 22 percent higher than the national average of $1,759.
- Michigan Senate votes to revise auto insurance law over Whitmer’s warning
- Michigan court limits scope of no-fault reform. Will insurance rates rise?
- Court: Past crash survivors not subject to Michigan auto no-fault limits
Crash survivors and their health providers, meanwhile, argue the system is untenable, putting too many restrictions on medical expenses and slashing the amounts insurers are required to pay by as much as 45 percent.
The 2019 law, negotiated by Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, cut medical provider reimbursement rates as part of a larger attempt to reduce auto insurance premium costs. The law also allows drivers to choose lower levels of personal injury protection, providing an alternative to what had been a mandatory lifetime care guarantee.
Advocates scored a victory in July when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the law didn’t apply to people injured prior to the 2019 law’s passage, and the Senate approved legislation in mid-October that would extend similar protections to future crash victims.
The two-bill package, which would increase reimbursement rates for medical providers that care for seriously injured motorists and lift a 56-hour per-week cap on payments for care provided by family members, got bipartisan support in the Senate.
But the measure was opposed by Whitmer’s administration and several Republicans who helped draft the existing law.
Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, said in a floor speech that "a vote for these bills is a vote for higher car insurance rates in Michigan.”
Rep. Brenda Carter, a Detroit Democrat who chairs the House Insurance and Financial Services Committee where the bills were sent, agrees.
The Senate legislation “would turn the clock back on reform and raise costs,” Carter told Bridge Michigan, adding that she believed it’s “not a vehicle for a fix.”
“We must be cautious with drafting legislation for such a complicated system,” she said.
“We need a narrow fix to address that small segment of service payment without raising rates for those who can least afford it. We also must look at more ways to reduce costs within the system.”
Care providers who support the Senate bills argue the plan put forward is already a narrow — and necessary — fix that wouldn’t impact drivers’ options to purchase lower cost premiums.
Tom Judd, executive director of the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, called Carter’s stance on the Senate-passed bills “disappointing,” but remained optimistic that the House could come to a deal that improves care options for accident survivors.
“Our hope is that Chair Carter reconsiders this unilateral decision, listens to her committee members and colleagues, and allows for a fair hearing and vote in her committee before slamming the door shut on the solutions contained in the Senate bill package,” he said.
Both Carter and House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, acknowledged more could be done to lower the price of auto insurance in Michigan.
“I have a lot of members that have a strong appetite around how we are looking at auto no fault…to be able to make that policy better,” Tate told reporters before the Legislature ended session for the year. “What we don't want to do is to have something that might be untenable.”
Carter said reform has made a difference, pointing to data from the Insurance Alliance of Michigan showing more than 200,000 Michigan drivers have purchased auto insurance since the changes took effect in 2020, but said more choices for drivers to choose their level of coverage would be a way to help reduce rates in Detroit.
Rep. Julie Rogers, a Kalamazoo Democrat and physical therapist who has long advocated for revisiting the 2019 law, said she sees no reason lawmakers can’t tackle lowering costs and addressing healthcare concerns at the same time, but sees the latter as a “life and death” issue lawmakers shouldn’t put off.
“There is a majority of House legislators that want to see some kind of significant fix,” she said.
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