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Republican state senator blasts leaders in both parties for ignoring desperate accident patients

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Republican State Senator Jim Runestad is blasting his fellow elected leaders for ignoring the humanitarian crisis caused by Michigan's new auto no-fault law.

The law is depriving hundreds of severely injured accident survivors of necessary care, by cutting pay for providers by nearly half and forcing them out of business.

Runestad said Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Senate Republican leaders agreed to fix the law, but he said they're doing nothing to help terrified survivors and their families, and neither are other elected and appointed leaders who have the power to help them. He said the political indifference to the plight of injured Michiganders was the "coldest I've seen."

"The attorney general [Dana Nessel] ought to be going after insurance companies from Consumer Protection," he said. "She's doing nothing. The DIFS [Department of Insurance and Financial Services] Director [Anita Fox] is doing practically nothing. I don't see anyone doing anything to help these patients who are in dire, desperate situations — and some of them may not survive."

"The truly most vulnerable people in our entire society are these people. Without that care, they die."
Republican State Senator Jim Runestad

Whitmer has asked Republican leaders to send her a bill fixing the law — but she has also steadfastly supported it, because she says it is lowering auto insurance premiums. Whitmer also asked the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association, which pays for accidents costing more than $600,000 in care, to give some of the fund's surplus back to insured drivers. The Association agreed to do so. Survivors' advocates say that will make it much harder to fix the law, because much of the money that was set aside to pay for future care will be gone.

Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Senate Insurance and Banking Committee Chairwoman Lana Theis, have not responded to Michigan Radio's multiple requests for interviews and comments about the crisis.

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel is not pursuing any legal remedies on behalf of survivors. Instead, in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new auto no-fault law, she has filed a brief in support of DIFS Director Fox's position that the law is intended to be retroactive.

That argument, if upheld by the courts, means more than 18,000 survivors who were injured prior to 2019 could lose some or all of their lifetime care benefits.

DIFS Director Anita Fox has said she can't change the law, but survivors or their advocates should call their insurance companies and try to work out arrangements that would enable them to keep their care.

But many survivors, their nurse case managers, guardians and family advocates say insurance companies don't return calls, and many of the companies have paid nothing to home care agencies or family members providing attendant care since July 1. That's despite a bulletin from DIFS stating that insurance companies should make partial payments on the bills they receive within 30 days.

Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to try to fix the no-fault law, but Republican leaders are refusing to grant the bills a hearing.

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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