Answers before ending no-fault insurance in Michigan

Guest Editorial
Before Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature end Michigan’s role as the only state in the nation that offers unlimited medical benefits for catastrophic injuries and rehabilitation related to auto crashes, they need to answer a host of questions.

First among them must be who gets the Catastrophic Claims Association’s assets if it is disbanded. State officials said the money would pay for continued treatment of people with existing medical claims and anything left over would be refunded to insurance customers, not insurers.

But the Coalition Protecting No-Fault immediately e-mailed news outlets copies of insurance code provisions that called for the remaining money — potentially billions — to be sent to “members,” meaning insurance companies.

That’s not all. For years, the Catastrophic Claims Association has ordered premium hikes ($11 per year this year and $30 last year) but the data it uses to set rates is secret. The fund is controlled by insurance companies, its meetings are closed to the public and rate-setting information is confidential.

The Coalition Protecting No-Fault and the Brain Injury Association of Michigan have sued for that information and a circuit judge ruled in their favor, but that’s under appeal.

And we shouldn’t forget that state voters in 1992 and 1994 rejected ballot proposals to end no-fault. A 2011 legislative effort failed.

While Snyder said the change would save Michigan drivers $250 a year, he also said the plan would guarantee a $125-per-vehicle premium reduction for just one year. After that, he said, “the market should work.” Or not.

In short there are a host of questions that must be answered.

At a minimum, the governor should make public Catastrophic Claims Association information so everyone can see what is being paid in, the basis for premium hikes and the fund’s balance so residents — and lawmakers — can make informed choices.

Snyder made a big deal of the fact that Michigan has the highest rates of surrounding states; a chart showed Michigan’s average premium at $1,073, with Illinois at $812 and Indiana at $716. But neither of those states offer benefits anywhere near Michigan’s. And who is to say Michigan’s rates couldn’t hit those levels if the Catastrophic Claims Association’s real numbers were known.

Snyder and the Legislature last year did away with Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law; but a University of Michigan study found 26 fewer riders would have died last year if riders were still required to wear helmets.

Money cannot be the only measure. Lives count — even those of people who need lifetime care after a catastrophic auto accident.