LANSING – Allowing a car insurance customer to not purchase personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, even if an individual’s health insurance company covers auto accident claims, is a bridge too far for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the auto no-fault reform debate.
Speaking to reporters as she toured the Hope Network Neuro Rehabilitation Center in East Lansing Thursday, Whitmer opened the door to insurers offering different levels of PIP coverage, but “the zero coverage options is where I have to draw the line.”
“That’s what really shifts the cost on to taxpayers, bankrupts people and undermines the critical health care that we have across the state,” she said.
The House substitute to SB 0001 provides customers with five PIP coverage options: $50,000 plus $200,000 for medically necessary treatment, $250,000, $500,000, unlimited or none if the person can prove his or her health insurer will cover the expenses.
Whitmer told reporters that the $250,000 level is “something worth consideration,” but she’s concerned doing a “zero coverage option” will mean a bigger hit to Medicaid, which taxpayers will be on the hook for.
With the backdrop of the Neuro Rehabilitation Center, she mentioned a Kyle Jen’s son, who was hit by a motorist while walking across the Michigan State University (MSU) campus.
“He had five hours of brain surgery, spent a lot of time in the hospital and just started rehabilitations services here,” Whitmer said. “No one thinks that this could happen to them.
“But when it does, they want to know that they’ve got the care that they’re going to need to be independent and productive again.”
Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) said he felt the non-PIP provision was a good one, but conceded that it clearly had become part of negotiations between Whitmer and legislative leaders.
Meanwhile, back in the House and Senate, early rumors had the House prepared to send a substituted version of SB 0001 back to the Senate for concurrence and quick transmission to the Governor.
However, those plans were scrapped shortly after noon Thursday with House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) announcing that they had had “productive conversations” on auto no-fault reform with Whitmer.
In a joint scrum on the floor of the House Thursday afternoon, Shirkey said he expected negotiations to continue over the weekend. He said, “Fine wine takes time, and this is a very fine wine for the people of the state of Michigan.”
“We feel we are one step closer to finding real consensus to drive down car insurance rates. Because of those ongoing conversations and productive conversations, we’ve decided not to move on a bill today,” Chatfield said.
“The Governor has finally, with her team, presented some things to us that actually move in a direction that we can have some optimism that we can get to a bill signing in the not-too-distant future,” Shirkey said. “I am more optimistic today than I have been in the last two weeks that we can accomplish that.”
Shirkey said he had seen some movement toward PIP choice and “they’ve backed away from basing fees on charges and they’re basing fees now on actual cost-controlled elements that we can all predict.”
Asked if they believed Blue Cross was giving Whitmer marching orders, Shirkey said: “Absolutely not. I think she is struggling to find a way to lead on this. I’m a little frustrated with her methodologies, but we are going to continue to be positive about it and choose to see the things where we can agree.”
Chatfield answered: “We are not in the business of impugning anyone’s motivations or trying to box anyone in or draw any hard lines. The purpose of this is to say we are committed to working with this Governor, we are committed to working with this administration, because this is the single largest issue facing our state.”
Asked if a road tax might be part of the deal, Shirkey said: “We have made it clear from the beginning of the year that this is a stand-alone issue and that stands firm today. Of course, she’s always asking, and that is her prerogative to do so, but this is a stand-alone issue and I’m convinced we are going to get it done one way or the other sans a roads conversation.”
Wednesday, the contents of HB 4397 were substituted into SB 0001 by the House’s Select Committee on Reducing Car Insurance Rates and reported to the House floor.