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Michigan governor opposes zero coverage option for drivers

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday she opposes Republicans’ proposal to let drivers fully forgo mandatory, unlimited medical benefits covered by their auto insurance premiums, saying she must “draw a line” but is open to requiring a minimum level of coverage.

The Democrat made her comments after touring a rehabilitation facility for people with brain injuries, including those injured in car crashes, as the GOP-led Legislature considered efforts to cut the country’s highest premiums. She reiterated that she would veto the bills without changes and suggested that $250,000 of base coverage is “worth consideration.”

Michigan is the only state to mandate unlimited personal injury protection, or PIP, benefits — which on average makes up half of premiums.

“People don’t think it’ll ever happen to them,” Whitmer said of the potential for sustaining serious injuries in car accidents. “That’s why we’ve got to have a base level that everyone buys into so that we can get the savings that we want but also protect the system.”

Under differing measures that won approval in the House and Senate last week, motorists could choose zero PIP coverage or higher levels as long as they have other health insurance.

Whitmer warned that a full opt-out could “bankrupt” people with severe crash injuries, shift costs to the government-funded Medicaid system, and undermine hospital trauma centres and rehab clinics “that are doing the critical work of helping people become independent again and get their lives back.”

Staffers for Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders were continuing to discuss the legislation on Thursday.

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake, said while Whitmer’s statements suggesting some options is “always a good sign” in negotiations, Shirkey would be “very reluctant to say that we’re not willing to give every person in Michigan the opportunity to fully opt out, fully realize as much savings as possible on car insurance.”

A University of Michigan study released last month found that car insurance is unaffordable in 97% of Michigan’s ZIP codes. The average premium in Michigan — $2,693, according to the most recent report from The Zebra, an insurance comparison website — is 83% higher than the national average of $1,470. Detroit’s premium on average is $5,464, far surpassing any other U.S. city.

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David Eggert, The Associated Press

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