A Michigan colleague recently posted an inquiry about two pieces of legislation currently pending before the Michigan Legislature. His question was so simple, yet so compelling, I thought I would paraphrase it and share it here.
First, a brief history lesson. 42 years ago, a sensible, safety oriented, legislature passed Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law, requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. 38 years ago, the Michigan Legislature passed the one-of-a-kind Michigan No-Fault Automobile Insurance law. This law mandated unlimited, 100% medical expense reimbursement, for automobile accident victims, regardless of fault. This was done in exchange for a higher threshold injury in liability cases. To obtain damages from a third-party tortfeasor in Michigan, the victim has to have suffered death, serious impairment of body function, or serious disfigurement. If his injuries do not rise to these levels, he cannot pursue pain and suffering (tort) compensation. However, whether or not he reaches that threshold (and whether or not he was at fault), he is entitled to medical benefits from his own insurance company. That was the trade.
In Lansing (the state’s capitol), today, the Republican majority is currently considering (and is close to passing) a bill repealing the mandatory helmet law, despite the fact that study after study has shown that helmet use saves lives and prevents serious head injuries. This same legislature is also considering a bill to cap previously unlimited medical expenses and/or allow people to purchase unlimited coverage or lesser, capped coverages.
Since many Michigan citizens are in dire financial straits, they will, most likely, opt for lower coverages. The insurance industry is seeking these "caps" without producing any evidence that they are having financial difficulties relating to the Michigan no-fault law and/or mandatory uncapped medical coverage. In fact, they cannot produce this evidence because it doesn’t exist. These companies are highly profitable and make considerable money off of the premiums they charge for no-fault coverage. If this law passes, these caps will create a cost "shift" for those unable to pay for the unlimited coverage that is currently affordable to all. That shift will transfer the burden of expense reimbursement from the private sector (private insurance benefits paid for by private insurance premiums) to public assistance (Medicaid and Medicare).
Since most Republicans are supposed to be about less government and more private and personal responsibility, it is hard to understand why they would support such a shift. The only explanation is that they are being wined and dined by the insurance lobby and accepting campaign contributions (probably in the millions) from that same constituency. That politicians are willing to sell Michigan citizens rights in exchange for corporate campaign contributions is a sad state of affairs, hypocritical, a violation of their oath of office, and…well….plain WRONG! Proponents of the bill say that people should be able to buy whatever level of coverage they want or can afford (class warfare?). They say it will reduce medical costs.
Which brings me to my colleague’s profound question:
Can someone explain to me how the legislature can justify passing some no-fault legislation in an attempt to reduce medical costs and then pass something like this (the helmet law repeal) which can only result in large increases in deaths, injuries and medical costs?
My friend, there is no explanation other than corporate greed. Lobbyists are working this legislature and this hypocrisy and lack of consistency is the result. The two pieces of legislation cannot be squared. Neither will make citizens safer; both will hurt the state financially (lower private health care costs means high public health care costs; repeal of the helmet law will result in more serious injuries, further increasing public health care costs), yet the Michigan legislature will continue to operate in the corporate interest rather than the public interest until the public (too late, most likely) gets ticked off and throws the bums out.
The Michigan insurance industry has a long and very blemished record of promising premium savings in exchange for benefit-limiting legislation. Its members will lie, cheat and steal to increase profits. It will sacrifice the rights of its own customers for profit. It will cut premium paying customers’ benefits off by retaining bought and paid for physicians to justify, medically, those benefit cut-offs. We are talking about serious anti-citizen, anti-policy holder conduct. This despicable insurance benefits defense behavior is, as Injury Board member, Brett Emison coined, "The Real Face of Lawsuit Abuse". Abuse of policy holders seeking due and past-due benefits is, absolutely, the most prevalent abuse of the civil justice system in America.
Watch and see: In the aftermath of the passing of the helmet law repeal, auto insurance carriers will exclude coverage to riders who don’t wear helmets. On the surface, that seems like a good thing. "Unless you wear a helmet, we won’t cover you"; we will force you, regardless of the new law, to wear a helmet. However, that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing argument. What these private insurers will really be saying is: "We know you are not going to wear a helmet if there is no enforcement and we want to shift the cost of your serious head/brain injury to the taxpayers and the Medicare/Medicaid system.
Michigan citizens: This is the Republican legislature and governor you voted into office. Aren’t you proud of yourselves? Unless your are a corporation (Mitt-a Michigan man-Romney says "corporations are people too", don’t ya know?), your Republican elected official (with about 4 exceptions) does not care a hoot about you and your rights and benefits. They care about two things and two things only: Campaign contributions and winning the next election. You can’t do anything about the first; you can do plenty about the second. Find out where your elected representatives and senators stand on these two bills. If they voted for the helmet law repeal and are prepared to vote for restrictions to your automobile no-fault coverages, tell them that they did and will do so, not only at the expense of their constituents, but at the expense of their jobs.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.