Some Democratic state legislators and car accident victims are lashing out at Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s support for legislation that changes Michigan’s car insurance system, calling it a betrayal of principles Whitmer had vowed to defend.
Whitmer has said she’ll sign legislation passed hastily last week. Senate Bill 1 would make a variety of changes to Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system—most notably, eliminating unlimited medical coverage for accident victims in favor of a tiered system that lets drivers choose a level of personal injury protection coverage in exchange for mandated reductions to that portion of their insurance premium.
“This plan will help drivers from Detroit all the way to the U.P.,” Whitmer said in a statement on Friday. “It guarantees lower auto insurance rates for eight years, protects people’s choice to pick their own insurance and coverage options while preserving the safety net, and bans insurance companies from using discriminatory non-driving factors when setting rates.”
Erica Coulston, who says she suffered a severe spinal injury in a 2001 car accident, disagrees. She says Michigan’s no-fault insurance system saved her life, and this is “the beginning of the end of that system.”
The bill was passed with “no public hearings, no testimony, no fiscal analysis,” Coulston says. “No talk about those of us that were promised a system that would support us and care for us, that would now be destroyed.”
19 Democrats in the state Legislature voted against the bill. Two of them, state Representatives Isaac Robinson and Cynthia Johnson (both D-Detroit) held the event Coulston attended in Detroit on Tuesday, denouncing the bill and Whitmer’s plans to sign it.
Opponents say the bill doesn’t guarantee major rate reductions, while gutting comprehensive medical coverage for accident victims, and shifting the burden for their care to public systems like Medicaid.
And while the bill prohibits insurers from “establishing or maintaining rates or rating classification for automobile insurance based on home ownership, educational level attained, occupation, the postal zone in which the insured resided, and credit score,” its detractors say it leaves loopholes that effectively allow the use of some non-driving factors to set rates—what they bluntly call “red-lining.”
“If we think we have it bad now, just wait. Because it will be worse,” says Johnson, who also called the bill “a racist piece of legislation.”
“[Whitmer] has to be accountable for these broken promises,” Robinson says. “This breaks the promise to end redlining. This breaks the promise to protect our health care.”
Robinson says Michigan should have aimed to cap the profits of insurance companies, instead of health care benefits. He calls the insurance changes “a complete rejection of what Democrats are supposed to stand for.”
“Car insurance companies can do whatever they want, and they wrote this bill. And it’s a shame,” Robinson says.
Robinson and Johnson admit their political options are limited at this point, but say they still hope to pressure Whitmer into vetoing the legislation.