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Michigan lawmakers seem hell-bent on "fixing" something that doesn't need fixing

Dec 14, 2016

Mark Twain once said that “no man’s life, liberty and property are safe while the legislature is in session.” 

He’s been dead for more than a century, but I’m sure he wouldn’t be the least surprised to learn that things haven’t improved in the slightest.

Actually, they’ve gotten worse, in Michigan at any rate, thanks to term limits, which have served to vastly increase the power of the lobbyists.

And now, out of the blue, an unholy alliance has erupted between insurance industry lobbyists and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. The object is to take away benefits from those catastrophically injured in traffic accidents who have no insurance.

This is a classic case of something that isn't broke and doesn't need fixing.

This is a classic case of something that isn’t broke and doesn’t need fixing. There’s a vast amount of money, something like $20 billion, in the Michigan Catastrophic Claims fund.

Right now, if one of my poor students, say, is crossing the street and gets horribly injured by a drunk driver, there are funds to take care of her medical needs for life. But now the Legislature, led by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, wants to cap the amount she could receive at $400,000.

If you’ve ever had a family member who was critically injured, you know very well they can blow through that in medical expenses in weeks. What would happen after that is too frightening to think about.

By the way, if that wasn’t bad enough, these bills would also limit the amount their relatives could be reimbursed for caring for them.

Gov. Snyder, by the way, tried to do something even worse three years ago. He wanted to cap benefits for everyone, insured and uninsured, at a million dollars, in exchange for a largely token cut in insurance rates.

That horrible idea was defeated with the aid of an unlikely angel: Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. He had been badly injured in a car accident the year before, an accident that had left his driver permanently paralyzed. He rallied Oakland County legislators to defeat it.

But once again, the barbarians are at the gates, with a new version.

You might ask, why are some of these lawmakers so hell-bent on putting citizens in jeopardy?

... why are some of these lawmakers so hell-bent on putting citizens in jeopardy?

They can make a case for slashing people’s pensions on the grounds that there really are unfunded liabilities, but that isn’t true here. The truth is that a lot of people would love to get their hands on some of the $20 billion in that fund.

One Republican lawmaker has suggested using some of it to fix the roads, for example. I also wouldn’t be surprised if some term-limited lawmakers would like jobs as hospital or insurance lobbyists after they’re out of a job next month.

In Michigan, it would be quite legal for them to vote for this now and go to work for the special interest they helped enrich next month.

Still, it looks like they don’t have the votes to pass this -- yet. So far, their plan doesn’t even offer a guaranteed rate cut. Look for one to be added as a bargaining chip. As of now, this could go either way.

If there were ever a time to let your legislator know what you think, this is it. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.