Beckmann: Big money backs the no-fault repeal effort

Frank Beckmann
Special to The Detroit News

No matter which side you take in the rush to pass no-fault insurance reform in Michigan, you have to give the Republican-led Legislature credit for one thing — they are creative.

Having seen voters reject efforts to change insurance laws and cap lifetime benefits twice in recent years, our elected officials have found a way to go around the voters.

In their weeklong rush to ram through changes being sought be health insurance providers in Michigan, the Legislature has included $150,000 in funding for a research grant which makes this an appropriation and pretty much shields it from another voter challenge.

This has been an amazingly quick push on legislation which has seriously injured people alarmed about their prospects for affordable care, has the medical community fuming, and has health insurance companies smiling as their investment in political campaigns begins to pay off.

The health insurers will become the biggest winners in the conversation because the bill — passed out of committee and through the full state Senate within a matter of days — will create a fee process where they can use a formula similar to the state’s workmen’s compensation system to pay providers for care if they can’t agree with doctors and hospitals on the price of treatment.

Since the most seriously injured fall under catastrophic claims with lifetime benefit guarantees, this change has the potential to save insurers a lot of money.

But doctors and other care providers say the workmen’s comp system is a disaster for them, and they’ve raised strenuous objections to the changes.

Problem is, they haven’t invested in political campaigns like the insurance companies, so it looks like they’ll lose out on their arguments.

Senate insurance committee chairman Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, has enjoyed a legislative career dating back to 2002 and has been the big mover behind the current changes being placed on a fast track.

During his time running for the House and Senate, campaign funding records show he’s received almost $95,000 in contributions from the health insurance industry, including at least $45,000 from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The investment seems to be paying off, much to the chagrin of many wheelchair-bound Michiganians who appeared at the Capitol this week to testify against the new law.

Among them was Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who’s received the benefits of the current long-term care system after being badly injured in a 2012 car accident.

Patterson said, “It seems that every 20 years or so, the auto insurance industry aligns with misguided political leadership to reignite the battlefield. I fail to see any positive benefit from the destruction of the best auto insurance program that serves the recovery needs of the catastrophically injured.”

Hune said on my WJR radio show this week that a major consideration in making the changes is the “exorbitant” fraud claims, including charges for therapy involving mimes, aroma, and horses.

Another area of concern is relatives who are paid to care for injured patients and put in claims long after wounds have healed. But those concerns can be answered with heightened fraud investigations, perhaps starting with that $150,000 research grant in the new bill.

This is way too serious an issue to be driven by special interests through massive campaign contributions.

John Cornack of the Coalition Protecting No Fault says the new law “could devastate a lot of folks in the state of Michigan.”

That’s because there are doctors who have already vowed to reject new patients seeking treatment from auto crash injuries because the new law gives insurers too much power in determining the level and price of care.

Michigan can change the no fault system to eliminate fraud and even reduce the long-term liability deficit fund (estimated at $51.6 billion).

But we shouldn’t do so at the risk of cutting benefits for our most critically injured residents, and we certainly shouldn’t put changes up for sale to the highest bidder through campaign contributions.

Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday.