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Auto Insurance … reform?

During his first term, Governor Rick Snyder attempted to get the legislature to pass bills that would have severely limited the amount victims of catastrophic auto accidents could collect.

But that was one of his biggest failures. The bills went nowhere, especially after they were fervently opposed by his fellow Republican, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who was severely injured in an auto accident three years ago.

Well, it was clear then that the insurance industry would eventually try again, and yesterday, they succeeded in the Senate.

Led by Republican State Senator Joe Hune, the upper house rushed through a confusing bill, slapping things on and peeling things off at the last minute.

Their bill would appear to limit payments to attendants caring for the injured and to health care providers, but does not cap medical benefits, something the previous bill did.

For once, this was not a party-line vote. Seven Republicans voted against this bill, while State Senator Virgil Green, a Detroit Democrat who marches to his own drummer, voted for it. Other Democrats were bitterly opposed, but they have less than a third of the members.

The bill finally passed, 21 to 17. Part of the reason for the intense opposition is that while this bill clearly means a financial break for insurance companies, it doesn’t require them to lower their auto insurance rates for consumers at all – something the previous bill did do.

Senator Hune, a believer in the justice of the free market, said he thought this would just happen automatically, and said he’d be happy to revisit the issue in a few years if the rates don’t decline. For the opponents, that wasn’t nearly good enough.

This bill was rushed through in a day, with one major overhaul and then a flurry of five last-minute amendments added without any discussion whatsoever.  

It was clear these had to be added to win enough GOP support to get the bill through. But it is not at all clear what effect all this it would have on the cost and availability of catastrophic health care, or will happen in the state House of Representatives.  

Democrats are in a somewhat stronger minority there, and if an equivalent ratio of House Republicans opposes this bill, it won’t pass. More changes to this bill are almost certain.

What is certain is that the senate lawmakers chose to rush a bill through that even some of them may not have understood, but which could have a major effect on health care in Michigan.

It’s also certain that they were disgracefully afraid of public reaction; in what has become a new favorite trick, the lawmakers tacked on a token appropriation to prevent the possibility of voters overturning this in a referendum.

The major worry many people have was expressed by State Senator Rebekah Warren, whose own sister depended on the state’s insurance system after a horrific accident.

“The cracks that start today undermine the system forever,” she said. You had to wonder what Brooks Patterson, whose health has never been the same since his catastrophic accident, would have thought of this. But it was said he was “not available” to come in and testify.

And you had to wonder about that, too.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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