The blame game on auto insurance

So whose fault is it that Michigan motorists don’t have no-fault insurance rate relief?

There’s enough blame to go around to fill a column as you are about to read.

For decades the warring factions in the no fault debate have fought to a draw, but this time it would be different.

Or at least that’s what the Mayor of Detroit and the House speaker pitched to the media when they released their grand plan to cut rates by 40 percent.

Mayor Mike Duggan lectured the crowd that this was a civil rights issue. It was grossly unfair for some drivers to pay “X” for their insurance while others paid “10 times X.”

And the head of the Detroit NAACP chimed in that wouldn’t it be nice if motorists got a Christmas gift from the legislature in the form of badly needed rate relief? He failed to say which year he wanted because there’ll be coal under those trees this year.

On an embarrassing 45-63 vote last week the Michigan House delivered a major defeat for His Honor the Mayor and a second major defeat for his Excellency Speaker Tom Leonard who muffed a first of the year vote to repeal the state income tax.

The dynamic duo huffed and they puffed and when the smoke cleared they were 10 votes short of a victory. Mr. Leonard lost 22 members of his own party who stiffed him only to be joined by most of the Detroit delegation that stiffed their guy, too. Only four Detroit D’s voted with the mayor.

In a nutshell there was so much to hate in this package that you needed both hands and both feet to count them.

The aforementioned 40 percent rate cut revealed at the launch news conference turned out to be slightly misleading. The media takeaway reported it was a 40 percent cut across the board on your entire car insurance policy.

After the news hounds finally got around to reading the fine print, the 40 percent applied to only your PIP or Personal Injury Protection segment of your policy.

The Duggan-Leonard combine wanted to squeeze savings out of the system by giving motorists a choice: You could keep the current unlimited PIP coverage that would pay your hospital bills forever if you were the victim of a catastrophic accident. Or you could chuck the lifetime guarantee for a $500,000 or $250,000 policy.

“That’s where the savings are,” Mr. Duggan went around town trumpeting his notion that choice was good for the motorists.

Only problem is lots of lawmakers saw through that. “I can’t go back to my district and tell them, “Sorry you got in a catastrophic accident and your family is going to go bankrupt.” I can’t do that,” observed Rep. Bob Kosowski (D-Westland.)

And he had plenty of company on that front.

Critics of the plan also pointed out that whatever cost savings there were could easily be avoided by the insurance companies going to the state insurance commissioner and plead poverty.

On top of that any rate relief would evaporate after five years.

And on top of that, the trial lawyers made sure lawmakers knew that motorists would lose the right to sue a drunk driver who crashed into their cars and sent the family to the hospital.

Aware of all that, Mr. Duggan journeyed on. Give him credit, he spent more time at the capitol lobbying than all the previous Detroit mayors lumped together. But an “A” for effort does not pass legislation.

In the end the hospitals and trial bar hung tight with House Democrats who could not swallow the PIP pill.

Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson, meanwhile, convinced his local GOP lawmakers that this was a bad bill and they hung with him. He made his arguments from a wheelchair as the victim of his own run in with a careless driver that drove Mr. Patterson to within 3 percent of losing his life.

Toss in victims who lobbied in wheelchairs outside the House chamber and this bill was in a wheelchair of its own and the wheels were coming off as the countdown to the vote went on.

After he was blinded by 63 no votes on the board, Speaker Leonard thanked the mayor for his valiant fight and then, staring reality right in the face, he declared that “this was not a defeat.”

Saying so, does not make it so.