Hiding the Truth About Auto No-Fault

As the auto no-fault debate rages on in Lansing, HB 4936 heads for the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives for a vote. If it passes there, it will then go over to the Michigan Senate where its fate will ultimately be determined. The major feature of this Bill is that it eliminates the central feature of Michigan’s current auto no-fault law—lifetime full medical care. In its place, policyholders will only be able to buy medical coverage in three incremental levels—$500,000, $1,000,000, or $5,000,000. In other words, the insurance industry has concluded that no Michigan consumer needs, or should have the right to purchase, more than $5,000,000 of lifetime medical coverage to cover catastrophic auto accident injuries. The proponents of the Bill have made this determination in spite of the fact that over the last 35 years, there have been a number of cases where catastrophically injured patients and their families incurred multiple millions of dollars in medical expenses. Therefore, central to determining whether this Bill makes any sense is having the full facts about the history of catastrophic claims in Michigan over the last four decades.

In order to obtain this information, the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault (CPAN) sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA), requesting certain data that CPAN believed legislators should have before making a decision on the auto no-fault law.

As anticipated, the MCCA denied the request. MCCA’s denial of CPAN’s FOIA request is outrageous. CPAN was not conducting a “fishing expedition” in its request. Rather, CPAN requested simple, straight-forward information that it believes lawmakers must have to make an intelligent decision. The two simple items CPAN requested that the MCCA disclosed are as follows:

  1. As to all closed claims previously serviced by the MCCA, provide the following information:
    1. The total amount paid as of the date the claim was closed;
    2. The age of the claimant as of the date of the injury;
    3. The age of the claimant at the date the claim was closed.
  2. As to all open claims presently serviced by the MCCA, provide the following information:
    1. The total amount paid to date for each claim;
    2. The age of the claimant as of the date of the injury;
    3. The current age of the claimant.

CPAN President John Cornack reacted appropriately to the MCCA’s efforts to block the truth when he stated, “With this denial of information, lawmakers are being asked to make significant policy changes that impact the lives of all Michigan residents based on unverified data hand-picked by the insurance companies. To move forward with a vote without this information would be irresponsible at best, negligent at worst. What are they trying to hide here?”

It was also noted by CPAN that the Michigan Freedom of Information Act applies to any entity, “created by State or Local authority.” The MCCA was, in fact, created by the State Legislature in 1978. Therefore, the legality of the MCCA’s denial of CPAN’s FOIA request is very questionable.

More importantly, Michigan citizens, lawmakers, and the Governor should not tolerate this type of censorship and secrecy in a free society. The major proponent of HB 4936 is the insurance industry. The arguments the industry is making in support of this legislation are based solely on data that is exclusively in the control of the industry. It should be basic common sense that any argument based on data solely in the possession of the proponent of the argument should be rejected out of hand until the data has been made fully available for public scrutiny.

What is even more frustrating about the MCCA’s attempts to block access to the truth is the relative quiet emanating from the Michigan media. It would seem that journalists, who are usually very vocal in decrying government secrecy, would be all over this story. This would also seem to be true for Governor Snyder, who promised Michigan citizens transparency in government if he were elected.

The truth of the matter is that the MCCA’s recent denial of CPAN’s FOIA request should be the end of the line for HB 4936. Legislators should simply refuse to take up this Bill until the information is provided. Moreover, Michigan citizens should demand their Representatives act in exactly that manner.

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