LANSING, Mich. — Survivors of catastrophic auto crashes and the people who love and care for them rallied again at the Capitol Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to urge lawmakers to take up legislation that would prevent certain portions of the state's no-fault auto reform from taking effect this week.
As part of Michigan's new auto insurance law, the next portion of which is going into effect on Friday, there will be a new set of medical fee schedules for medical services that aren't already covered under our federal medicare law.
Advocates for catastrophic auto crash survivors say that changes to the law will drastically limit their access to medical care they need to survive.
The law will shrink the amount insurance companies will have to reimburse local care providers for post-acute medical care for crash victims to just 55 percent of what they were paying back in 2019, and cap the number of hours that family members can act as caregivers to just 56 hours a week.
While there have been multiple bills introduced into the state legislature in recent months that present a narrow fix to these fee schedules, the only bill seeing any action on Wednesday was Senate Bill 28.
The Senate passed SB 28 late Wednesday afternoon, effectively approving the creation of a $25,000,000 "post-acute auto injury provider relief fund" within the state Department of Treasury. The funds are meant to be dispersed to Michigan care providers who can prove financial losses due to the impending changes.
Several owners of care providers tell FOX 17 that the fund simply doesn't solve the problems at hand.
“That really doesn’t help anyone," said Chris Miller, owner of BrightStar Care in East Lansing.
"It's going to take three, four, five months for businesses to get the money. We have to cover payroll for that long, and by that time, some companies will be closed already.”
Senate Bill 314, House Bill 4486, House Bill 4992, and House Bill 5125 were all introduced in the past several months to provide a more sustainable fix to the slash in reimbursements. Each of these bills have so far languished in committee.
Advocates, who found a place to organize in the We Can't Wait Facebook group, have been visiting the Capitol since the beginning of May to educate lawmakers on how these changes could force care providers to close their doors, and effectively cut off their access to care.
In terms of how many people are currently in the no-fault system—about 18,000 survivors, according to Tom Constand, president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan.
A study by a firm called ROI Insight predicts that within a year of the cuts, if no legislative "fix" is taken up, 5,000 people in the industry will lose their jobs, and over 6,000 patients will lose access to medical care.
According to survey data from the Brain Injury Provider Council, 661 patients will immediately lose access to care because of the changes, and 1,488 healthcare workers will lose their jobs.
Tom Judd, president of the council, said the version of SB 28 passed Wednesday contains too many obstacles for providers to actually see any money from the $25,000,000 fund.
“Senate Bill 28 simply does not provide a viable solution—it’s as useful as throwing a 10-foot lifeline to a group of people 100 feet away being dragged further by the current,” Judd said in a statement.
“The Legislature must commit to identifying a long-term fix and passing it when they return in the fall. MBIPC looks forward to being an active partner in this process. In the meantime, it will be a devastating summer for accident victims as they scramble to find increasingly limited care options while providers continue to discharge patients that they can no longer adequately support.”
John Prosser, VP and partner at Health Partners home care, one of West Michigan's largest providers of its kind, tells FOX 17 that he will have to shut down his business of several decades as of 7 p.m. Wednesday evening.
“We've had to lay off 530 field staff, and about 30 administrative staff,” he said.
Health Partners had to notify all of its 90 clients that they would no longer be able to provide them medical services, something Prosser never dreamed he would ever have to do.
“What a horrifying prospect, because it's just quite simple; no one can operate on that kind of a reduction,” he said.
According to consumer data collected by insurance comparison site The Zebra, 58% of Michigan drivers were unaware of the medical fee changes within the no-fault auto reform bill.
FOX 17 also reached out to the Michigan Insurance Alliance about the impending changes and the potential for survivors who paid for lifetime coverage to lose access to care.
Erin McDonough, executive director of the alliance, said, "The reasonable medical fee schedule that takes effect July 2 will rein in overcharging by medical providers, which has gone unchecked for decades and contributed to Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance premiums. Each long-term care case is different and takes time to resolve. We encourage families who are hearing from their medical providers that care may be ending or changing—and have yet to reach out to their case manager or auto insurance company—to do so as soon as possible.”
What happens next will depend on how many people really do lose access to medical care they need to survive once the changes take effect, how many more local care providers are forced to close their businesses, and in the end, how lawmakers decide to react to the potential disaster that awaits.