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Crash survivors ask: Is governor's proposed refund from money set aside for their care?

Posted at 1:00 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 13:00:33-04

LIVONIA, Mich. (WXYZ) — Is that the money that is supposed to save and improve our lives? That is the question people who have catastrophic injuries are asking as they learn the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association has an approximately $5 billion surplus.

The surplus was created by investment performance in the fund, excessive insurance bills, and the fact the legislature and governor cut coverage for accident survivors by 45%.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer this week wrote a letter asking the surplus be used to give drivers across Michigan the maximum refund they can get while also maintaining the viability of the fund.

Will that happen? 7 Action News heard from staffers for Republican and Democratic lawmakers that the MCCA planned to meet on Wednesday afternoon. We called the MCCA to ask whether we could cover the meeting. We were told no one could confirm whether or not a meeting was scheduled.

We went to the office in case there was a meeting. Doors were locked. No one answered follow-up phone calls. Following our attempts to contact them, a press release was issued announcing their support for the refunds.

The MCCA is an association created by lawmakers. It manages a fund that Michigan drivers under the law have over the years been required to pay into. It is also not public and not subject to Open Meetings Act requirements. It does not post when meetings happen, share minutes, video, or even consistently send out releases for the public.

The last press release before one today announcing they supported refunds was posted in November of 2020.

People who are living with the 45% cuts imposed on them effective July this year want accountability from the MCCA, the legislature, and the governor.

Brian Woodward says he relied on full coverage from the MCCA to live a full life. The 45% cut changed everything.

He says he lost his caregivers. He then lost his full-time job at Ford and his ability to live independently in his home. He was sent to the hospital because he was unable to provide for his own basic needs. Hospital social workers helped place him in the Special Tree Brain and Spinal Cord Rehabilitation facility.

“I lost a lot of freedoms. I used to do what I want when I want. And now I am under a lot of rules,” said Woodward.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, he is not allowed to have visitors. He says it is a fine facility, but he wants to live at home. At the same time, he fears he will lose the ability to live at Special Tree.

“We are facing a crisis,” said Joe Richert, Special Tree President.

He says he is not being reimbursed enough to continue providing care for accident victims long-term. At some point it will have to notify patients they can’t live there. It does not know of any other place that would take them.

"I don’t know 90 days, maybe less, maybe more,” said Richert when asked how long it could stay open without a law change.

“The emotional roller coaster I am on is absolutely crazy,” said Woodward.

Emily Harris from Harper Woods says her daughter, 5-year old Amora, lost her physical therapy due to the 45% cuts. She has been trying to find a new place to get therapy for her. She is angry with the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer for allowing this to happen.

“Work for the constituents. Work for us. Work for the injured,” said Harris.

The law passed in 2019 implementing the 45% cut this year called for the MCCA to do an audit. If it finds there is a surplus above 120% of liabilities the Department of Insurance and Financial Services is obligated by September 1, 2022, to order a rebate to insurers, with instructions to pass a refund on to their current customers.

7 Action News asked Governor Gretchen Whitmer what she wanted to say to people who question the motives of politicians passing legislation that called for a refund to drivers to be paid not long before the election.

“With regard to people who have been catastrophically injured, I know the new law has created a lot of hardship. And that is why I am hopeful the legislature will work with me on a solution for those who are injured,” said Governor Whitmer.

The governor said the refund she is calling for would not put at risk the fund’s ability to provide care to the catastrophically injured if the legislature passes a bill to roll back the 45% cut.

She says she is calling for an early refund because the surplus is extraordinarily large due in part to insurance companies charging too much. She says calling for the refund is not about politics, but about what drivers deserve.

“Six hundred dollars in the hands of all the people that have insurance in Michigan is a huge benefit,” said Governor Whitmer.

There are several bills introduced in Lansing that aim to help the catastrophically injured in some ways, but none are progressing at this time.