Hearings Begin On Changes To No-Fault Auto Insurance

In Lansing, a state House panel began hearings on proposed auto insurance changes today. Dozens of people in wheelchairs who sustained injuries from car accidents packed into the room to ask lawmakers not to change the state’s no-fault law.

The measure before the committee would allow drivers to choose lower rates by reducing their level of coverage.

Attorney George Sinas is with a coalition of doctors, hospitals and trial lawyers that oppose the proposed changes. He says he is concerned with a particular change to Michigan’s personal injury protection benefits law.

“This bill eliminates the current full-time protection for lifetime medical coverage,” he says. “No one, no one will be able to buy it anymore. I don’t care how rich you are or how much you need it, or how much you want it. It is unavailable.”

Sinas says that’s because drivers could not buy auto insurance that would cover more than $5 million dollars in medical bills.

Supporters of the change say the state’s no-fault model is unsustainable because of ballooning medical costs.

Sharon Tennyson, an associate professor from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, was commissioned to the research by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

“The easiest, the simplest fix is to place an upper limit on the no fault benefits,” she said. “Nobody needs unlimited injury benefits. We can argue about how much is enough-we can argue about how much is enough.”

That comment drew titters and smirks from many no-fault-insurance supporters at the hearing.

A former state lawmaker, Republican Jim Howell, spoke out this week against the changes. He says his son, who sustained a terrible brain injury in a car accident, would mostly likely be dead if not for no fault auto insurance coverage. He says he is concerned that lawmakers want to use a technicality in the proposal to keep voters from challenging a new law on the ballot.

“This bill has a $50,000 dollar appropriation in it, and it’s to implement the bill. Number one, that probably isn’t enough money to implement the bill, but number two, if they want to put money in to implement the bill they can run it through the appropriations process and it will have nothing to do with this,” he says.

Bills with appropriations cannot be challenged by referendum.