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MCCA to send auto insurance refund checks to drivers; some advocates call it stealing from survivors

Auto accident survivors protest new law cutting them off from care at State Capitol, summer 2021
Tracy Samilton
Auto accident survivors protest the new law cutting them off from care at the state Capitol, during the summer of 2021.

Days after Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association to issue refunds to insured drivers from its surplus, the board of the MCCA has agreed.

The Association's fund was originally set up to pay for care for auto accident survivors with the most severe injuries — including spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, multiple organ injuries, amputations, and burns. It now has a $5 billion surplus, due to a combination of large investment returns, as well as the result of the new no-fault auto law that cuts payments to the companies and family members who care for survivors.

In a press release, Whitmer said, "Michiganders have paid into the catastrophic care fund for decades, and these funds from the $5 billion surplus belong in the pockets of Michigan policyholders.”

No-fault attorney Gerald Paulovich couldn't disagree more strongly. Paulovich primarily represents long-term care providers for catastrophically injured auto accident patients. The providers are being driven out of business by the new no-fault law, which slashes payments by nearly half.

Paulovich said using the surplus in the MCCA fund for refunds is stealing. "It's money that was literally clawed from catastrophically injured people," he said. He said it's no coincidence the MCCA agreed to the refunds, now that bills to fix the law's horrific impacts are gaining traction in Lansing.

"It's gonna be much, much harder to get any reform passed, because the money's gone," he said.

But another group that advocates for survivors, the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, praised the refunds, while asking the governor to help those who have lost care.

"Michigan consumers are absolutely owed a refund on their premiums, because auto insurance companies have gotten away with gouging them for years," said Tom Judd, president of the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council. "But make no mistake: this move cannot be taken as an excuse to shirk the responsibility of caring for victims of catastrophic auto accidents, who paid for no-fault insurance through their premiums."

In a press release, MCCA said it would determine the amount of the refunds in the next few weeks, but "the goal is to issue the largest possible refunds to consumers while maintaining sufficient funds to ensure high-quality care to those who have been catastrophically injured."

In reality — a reality advocates say has been largely ignored or downplayed by Governor Whitmer and most Republican members of the state Legislature — hundreds of survivors are losing some or all of their former care, and hundreds more are expected to lose their care in the coming weeks and months. Home care agencies and residential group homes and rehab centers are closing. Many survivors can no longer get to doctor's appointments because transportation companies for auto accident survivors have closed. Many family caregivers are losing half their income. Some survivors have been landing in hospitals, and some children of survivors are now changing their injured parents' diapers and going on YouTube to learn how to insert catheters, after home care aides and nurses stopped coming to the house.

Advocates, family members, and care providers have been wheeling injured patients through the hallways of the state Capitol building every week for nearly two months, asking legislators to help them. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate aiming to restore care to the catastrophically injured survivors, but the bills have not been moved out of committee.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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