Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 9, 2013

Bill would cap auto insurance coverage

KINGSLEY — Tina Cardinal sat in a motorized wheelchair, a tube attached to her throat that allows her to breathe. She described how she was hurt in a car accident eight years ago.

“I was passing a semi and he ran me into a tree,” she said in a barely audible voice. She paused. “He got a ticket.”

Cardinal recently met with a reporter at The Lighthouse Neurological Rehabilitation Center in Kingsley, where she resides with 14 others. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and receives lifetime medical care, thanks to Michigan’s no-fault vehicle insurance.

Cardinal and others like her are at the heart of a proposed bill to cap Michigan’s unlimited personal injury protection coverage at $1 million. The bill recently passed out of a state insurance committee on a 10 to 5 vote along party lines. The week before, several Republicans walked out of the committee just as family members of catastrophic injury victims were about to testify, according to published reports.

“It’s just cold what they’re doing right now,” said Mark Wilson, part owner of The Lighthouse.

Michigan policy holders pay an extra $175 per vehicle each year to the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association. That money pays insurance companies for medical costs that exceed $500,000 per claim.

Under the proposal, policy owners would pay $150 less per vehicle in the first year, offset by a new $25 assessment to restore a Medicaid shortfall created by the bill.

Dr. Scott Groseclose, an orthopedic trauma surgeon in Traverse City, called the bill a “terrible idea.”

“If you say, ‘Look, it will save money,’ it’s a one-time $150 refund with no guarantees of additional cost savings in the future,” he said.

Groseclose believes the $1 million cap isn’t reasonable for trauma patients; one month of intensive care can cost that much. Other proposed changes in the bill would mean the loss of vital trauma treatment statewide.

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