MACKINAC ISLAND – Amid a jubilant bipartisan moment of unity, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed significant auto insurance changes into law Thursday following a round of negotiations leaders said could prove to be a roadmap for resolving other policy debates and the budget.
The remarks came during a crowded, euphoric gathering on the Grand Hotel porch in which Ms. Whitmer signed SB 1 during the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference.
Whitmer noted the irony of signing a bill into law related to saving drivers money was happening “in the one place where you can’t drive a car.”
She said the legislation before her was not perfect but is a very good first step, vowing that leaders will continue the walk toward future steps on insurance and other policy matters.
She admitted the talks on a compromise at times were in danger of falling apart, but all sides were dedicated to not letting partisanship ruin the progress being made. She called it a model for further policy discussions including road funding and the budget.
The new law will end mandatory unlimited medical coverage in favor of allowing motorists choices in how much coverage they want, install a fee schedule on how much health care providers and attendant care workers can charge for care and ban several non-driving factors in the calculation of rates. It also will place a cap of $250,000 on care from the assigned claims system for most uninsured persons injured in traffic crashes.
Critics have said there are massive loopholes enabling insurers to avoid real rate cuts and that the law will unravel the quality of care for those catastrophically injured in a traffic crash.
Prior to the bill signing ceremony in an interview with Gongwer News Service, Whitmer clarified what her goals had been during the negotiations. A week before Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders reached their conceptual agreement, the governor had declared everyone needed to buy into health care via auto insurance in some way or the system could unravel. She floated a minimum of $250,000. But the bill allows people to opt-out of purchasing personal injury protection coverage on their auto insurance if they have Medicare or a health insurance policy that covers traffic crash injuries and a deductible of less than $6,000 per person.
Whitmer has taken heat from traditional allies that she caved, especially on this aspect of the bill.
“My goal was to make sure that everyone had some form of coverage,” Whitmer said Thursday.
Once the bill is filed with the Office of the Great Seal, which Whitmer’s press office said would happen next week, it will likely become PA 17 of 2019.
The mood during the bill signing was lighthearted, with at one point when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) began speaking about building momentum to tackle other major issues, Ms. Whitmer unprompted cut in by blurting out “the roads,” prompting laughter.
“See? We’re working together already,” Shirkey quipped.
Lawmakers drove the policy discussion and process, not special interest groups, he said.
Shirkey said the discussions were difficult, but he and House leadership wanted to get a compromise bill signed rather than dare Whitmer to veto it. He said Whitmer “engaged at exactly the right time.”
“We were determined not to destroy relationships, but to build relationships,” Shirkey said.
“We truly could not do this if we were not in an era of divided government,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said.
He called the compromise “a true testament of what you can do with divided government” if both sides are working together.
“We kept our word,” Chatfield said of campaign promises of getting auto insurance reform passed.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), echoed the other speakers.
“It’s not a fluke we were able to get this done,” Ananich said.
He said Thursday’s signing was a long time coming, adding the Legislature has found a formula for future successes with the governor.
“This will be our new mode of operation in Lansing,” Ananich said.
“This is a roadmap to how we solve those big problems,” House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) added.
Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist called SB 1 a crucial first step in provide relief to residents statewide. He said the annual premiums for Detroit residents are about quadruple the national average, adding he was hit with a similar spike after having lived in other states and Washington, D.C.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for all 7 million drivers in Michigan,” Gilchrist said.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who pushed a failed 2017 effort on overhauling the no-fault system, was thrilled to see a legislative solution in a position to be signed. He said the relief to Detroit residents would be significant.
Duggan praised leadership and Whitmer for working together. Without those efforts, he said Thursday’s ceremony would not be taking place.
“We’re competing with other states and other countries,” Duggan said. “We need to all be pulling together.”
Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), sponsor of SB 1, praised Whitmer for signing the final version of the bill in a statement.
“This bipartisan effort will end the outdated system that has burdened Michigan drivers for decades,” Nesbitt said. “Families, seniors and all drivers will finally be able to choose their auto insurance coverage after nearly 50 years. The new law will also stop the massive overcharging for care involving auto accident and crack down on fraud and lawsuit abuse.”
Insurance Alliance of Michigan Executive Director Tricia Kinley called the legislation a strong step in the right direction in a statement.
“We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Department of Insurance and Financial Services to build upon this to ensure cost savings go Michigan drivers instead of the special interests opposed to reform. We are prepared to help fix several technical and drafting issues in the bill to ensure consumers – and not medical providers and trail lawyers – reap the benefits of these historic reforms,” Kinley said.
This story was provided by Gongwer News Service.