New hope for car crash survivors as hearings held on bills to amend 2019 no-fault law
Hundreds of people in matching T-shirts created a sea of blue in front of the state Capitol building on this early October Tuesday. “ACT NOW” was the message on the shirts — a reference to new Senate bills that could restore access to care for crash victims who lost it after 2019.
"I need everyone here to keep being loud," Democratic state Representative Tyrone Carter, a strong supporter of the bills, exhorted the crowd. "Keep writing letters, keep telling your stories! Can you do that?"
"Yeah!" the crowd shouted in return.
The rally was a bookend of sorts. Many of the same people here were present at a rally in front of the state Capitol in the summer of 2020 — organized after a part of the law went into effect that cut payments for survivors’ care by nearly half.
"Crash victims have been kicked out of their homes. They've been dropped off at nursing homes and emergency rooms. They've had their dignity ripped away — because of something we did," Carter said, referring to the bipartisan vote that ushered in the major changes to the no-fault law.
"Crash victims ... have had their dignity ripped away because of something that we did."Democratic State Representative Tyrone Carter
It was even worse for some crash survivors. Some of them died because of losing necessary care, according to their medical providers and families.
But there is new hope for people injured in vehicle accidents after 2019, in the form of two new bills: SB 530, introduced by Democratic state Senator Mary Cavanagh, and SB 531, by Democratic state Sen. Sarah Anthony.
Anthony testified before the Senate Finance, Insurance and Consumer Protection Committee the day after the rally.
She said the hearing was a long time coming, after Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Republican leaders promised they'd fix problems in the admittedly "not perfect" 2019 no fault bill — after the Governor signed it into law.
"Year after year after year we have not seen action," said Anthony. "So the fact that we are here, in front of a committee actually working to change what we know is a crisis in our state, is really powerful."
The new bills substitute what their sponsors, health care cost experts and providers agree are reasonable rates for services for car crash victims, in place of the 45% cut imposed in 2019.
Tom Judd, head of the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, testified that the cut devastated the care industry. Some providers went out of business. Others discharged severely injured patients.
All the while, Judd said, medical care providers faced a barrage of unfounded claims by the Insurance Alliance of Michigan that medical care providers caring for auto patients are “unscrupulous" "price-gouging" - and "greedy.”
"For too long our members have been slandered by the public relations and lobby arm of the auto insurance industry, broadly labeling them as greedy and unethical providers," he said with some heat. "Our members help people get back to work, back to school and back to their homes and communities!"
The bills also address the law’s impact on family caregivers. The 2019 changes dramatically cut the amount they could be paid for the care, as well as limiting the total number of hours the families and friends could receive payment to 56 total.
They made it appear as though being chosen to care for your catastrophically injured child was kind of like winning the lottery.Maureen Howell, mother of Sam Howell, who suffered a TBI in a 2005 car crash.
Maureen Howell is one such caregiver. Her son suffered a devastating brain injury from a car crash in 2005. Howell testified that like many family caregivers, she and her husband gave up their careers to care for their injured loved one.
Howell said a similar defamation campaign was waged to paint families as get-rich con artists, scheming to defraud the system and live off insurance benefits.
"The Department of Insurance and Financial Services fraud reports from 2019 to 2023 list three family fraud cases totalling under $60,000," she testified. "Fraud was not rampant. They made it appear as though being chosen to care for your catastrophically injured child was kind of like winning the lottery," she told the committee dryly.
Howell ended the hearing with a plea to act now — pass the bills — before others have to suffer too.
"If you can — and it's hard to do — imagine that tonight, you get a call," she urged the committee. "Imagine that it's your loved one that's been in a crash. Imagine it, because it happens to a thousand Michiganders every single year. Getting into our car is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a daily basis. We are all potential survivors."
The hearing ran out of its allotted time before Erin McDonough, head of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, could testify. A second hearing to take her testimony, along with others that oppose the bills, is planned.
"Investigative news reports and independent analysis ... have uncovered overcharging by medical providers and fraud."Erin McDonough, Executive Director of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan.
McDonough declined to be interviewed after the hearing; she has consistently declined Michigan Radio’s other interview requests since 2019.
In a statement, she said Alliance statements are rooted in investigative news reports and independent analysis of Michigan auto no-fault laws that have uncovered overcharging by medical providers and fraud.
The insurance group also says the changes to the no fault law have saved drivers money, and if there are any modifications, insurance companies will raise rates.