In his run for mayor, one of Mike Duggan’s key campaign promises was creating a D-Insurance program that he said would significantly reduce the incomprehensible high auto insurance rates in Detroit.
The newly elected mayor ran into setbacks and found it difficult to get an agreement on certain provisions of the plan with some members of the Detroit legislative caucus in Lansing. At issue is whether the plan limits the long-term medical care needs of residents in exchange for lower insurance.
And as Duggan gears up for a re-election run, he’s not giving up on the plan.
The mayor’s office indicated this week he will continue to push lawmakers in Lansing to alter the state’s laws in a way to allow insurance carriers to offer coverage that lowers rates for Detroiters. If successful, it will be a major boost in quality of life for city residents.
Many past administrations have made numerous promises to deal a blow to insurance redlining but to no success. Some have used it as a campaign talking point to rile voters, and whip up frenzy at town halls but have fallen short of enacting reform to the state’s no-fault insurance laws.
Under the Duggan plan, residents would be required to carry a minimum of $25,000 in basic coverage and $250,000 in critical injury coverage from auto insurers, and any other outstanding health care needs, according to Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell, would be provided by the driver’s own health care provider. The current no-fault insurance law requires to have unlimited personal injury protection coverage.
The city says this plan will save residents $2,300 annually in auto premiums. But for the reform to take place, theDuggan will need some key allies in Lansing to withstand the expected opposition and counterweight of Michigan’s powerful insurance lobby.
One of those allies could be state Rep. Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Charter Township Republican and speaker of the House, who will have to bring any such proposal to the House floor as well as galvanize support for its passage.
Leonard’s press secretary Gideon D’Assandro in an email said: “Speaker Leonard has been working on auto insurance reform for the past four years and it remains one of his top priorities. Michigan drivers have to put up with the highest insurance rates in the nation and that’s not right.”
D’Assandro added, “Anyone who truly wants to work together to find a solution and lower insurance rates for hard working families is welcome to the table.”
Hollowell, the city’s top lawyer and point man on the D-Insurance proposal, said Leonard is very receptive to this issue.
“We have begun a very productive dialogue,” Hollowell said. “We believe that this is going to be one of the top priorities to be resolved.”
Hollowell said getting Leonard on board is significant.
“Whether this issue calls for a Detroit or statewide solution, I think everything should be on the table,” Hollowell said. “Our focus obviously is on Detroiters because residents have been suffering for a long time.”
The issue affects the city’s efforts — and Duggan’s goal — to grow its population, Hollowell added.
“People are moving back into the city but they are not registering as Detroiters because of auto insurance,” Hollowell said. “They still maintain a suburban address where the rates are cheaper. That hurts because of the census and also, because they are using suburban addresses, they are not voting.”
“The bottom line number is that the average auto insurance cost in Detroit is $3,400 annually and the suburbs is $1,700. You cannot continue to attract and keep people if you don’t bring down some of the costs.”
Hollowell said that 60 percent of Detroiters are driving without insurance, many because they cannot afford it.
“This criminalizes a section of our population. It is the most expensive statewide,” he said.
The city commissioned a study two years ago that found that personal injury lawsuits also have been a factor in driving up rates in the city when compared to the suburbs.
“What we found (looking at 1,000 cases) is that the number of accidents Detroiters get into is identical to the suburbs. Detroiters are not better drivers than suburbanites,” Hollowell said. “But the number of claims filed on personal injury collection doubles in Detroit than the suburbs. The average payout in Detroit is $50,000 compared to $30,000 in the suburbs and yet it is the same number of accidents. Why aren’t they bringing the same amount of lawsuits as they do in Detroit?”
D’Assandro said any movement on the reform proposal will have to be initiated by state Rep. Lana Theis of Brighton, chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee. She will have to decide the timing of the legislative action.
“I have enjoyed having a handful conversations with the mayor’s office about the cost of auto insurance throughout the state of Michigan,” Theis said. “Residents have made it clear they are unhappy with the high cost of auto insurance here in Michigan; and I look forward to working with anyone who has a proposal that will positively impact auto insurance premiums for everyone throughout our state.”
During his State of the City address in 2014, Duggan said his own family’s auto insurance went from $3,000 to $6,000 when he moved into the city, and now he understands why many Detroiters are driving without insurance.
“No fault is no choice. Either you pay the highest car insurance in the country or you drive illegally,” the mayor said.
Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910AM weekdays at noon. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.