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Health insurance companies’ favorite Michigan legislator

Apr 24, 2015

There’s little doubt that State Senator Joe Hune is the health insurance companies’ favorite Michigan legislator. While it wouldn’t be nice to say he’s been bought and paid for, they’ve invested heavily in him over the years; nearly a $100,000 in campaign contributions, according to conservative Detroit News columnist Frank Beckmann.

And now they are counting on their investment paying off. Hune is chair, surprise surprise, of the insurance committee.

And he is working hard to ram a bill through the Legislature that would weaken coverage and protection for those terribly injured in catastrophic auto accidents.

And in an especially underhanded move, Hune and his allies have stuck a token $150,000 appropriation onto this bill to prevent voters from trying to repeal it.

They have to do that, because the people would repeal it.

They have twice before rejected efforts to change the laws and weaken benefits. This is a program, by the way, that is not broken. Doctors and patients say it works. There is plenty of money in the long-term liability fund to take care of people who need lifetime care – billions of dollars.

But the big insurance companies want to get their hands on some of that money, and reduce what they are paying in. Last year, they tried to get a bill through the Legislature that would have drastically capped benefits to the catastrophically injured.

That failed, in no small part because of opposition from one of the state’s leading conservative Republicans, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. He is a survivor of a terrible car accident, and knows firsthand how important this coverage is to people.

This year, the insurance companies and their allies are being sneakier about it. Instead of directly limiting benefits, they're trying to cap what doctors can charge and what those providing the care can be paid. Once again, the people’s only hope may be Brooks Patterson.

"I don't know why these guys are hell-bent on destroying one of the most thoughtful pieces of legislation drafted."

Yesterday, he told the Gongwer News Service, “I don’t know why these guys are hell-bent on destroying one of the most thoughtful pieces of legislation drafted,” he said, meaning the current system.

He called Hune’s bill “the worst piece of legislation they ever came up with.”

The hospital and medical communities are solidly opposed to this bill. So are virtually all the Democrats.

Tom Cochran, their leader on the insurance committee said it would, “increase unfunded care for hospitals, reduce pay for medical professionals and ultimately leave victims of catastrophic accidents with fewer options and higher bills.”

But they are in the minority. Republicans are needed to stop this bill, and Patterson is lobbying all the state representatives from Oakland County to do just that.

Interestingly, the change is also opposed by the Tea Party’s Todd Courser, who says he doesn’t like it because it “seems to benefit the insurance companies without any rate reductons.” This could be the most important drama in the legislature this year.

The insurance companies and their allies are trying to rush this through before most voters realize what is happening. If this matters to you, or you have ever been touched by a terrible car accident, you might want to let your state legislators know how you feel.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.