Bills give hope to Detroiters with highest car insurance rates in US

Posted at 11:30 PM, Oct 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-05 05:10:54-04

"It was a very stressful time trying to figure out what to do."

For Detroit resident Karen Whitsett, the most burdensome part of getting married was sorting out the car insurance.

Whitsett’s husband, Jason, would be moving to her home in the city, bringing his Jeep along with him.

But the couple had serious thoughts of returning the car after getting quotes on yearly premiums, north of $13,000.

Not helping matters was the fact that she was already paying more than $4,000 a year for her own vehicle. 

"My driving record is good. My credit report is good. So what would make my car insurance so high?," she said. 

How about her zip-code? Whitsett lives in 48227, which according to multiple national surveys is the zip code with the highest average annual auto insurance rate in the entire country. 

"I was told that the reason my car insurance was so much higher was because I was two blocks east of a main street. If I was two blocks west of it, it would be $1,900 cheaper," said Whitsett. 

Premiums are set-- in part -- by the number of claims made in that zip-code for accidents, vandalism, or car thefts. 

Willie Hamilton -- also in 48227 --- had an even higher price tag to grapple with after two cars were stolen from him in just four years

The cheapest coverage he says he could find after aggressively shopping around was a whopping $10,835 a year. 

Hamilton says the bill accounts for more than 50 percent of his monthly budget.

But while these residents are paying the steep costs, they say they understand why others choose not to.

"Driving dirty. Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to drive without insurance. And people are forced to make choices," added Whitsett. 

National surveys show 1 in 5 drivers in the state are currently uninsured. And all of it begs the question: What’s driving Michigan auto rates sky high?

"We have a unique no fault auto insurance law...There’s a provision in there that mandates every resident and driver buy unlimited lifetime medical benefits," said Lori Conarton of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan. 

If a person is injured in an auto accident, then their insurance pays the medical bills associated with that injury -- for life.

It’s a requirement no other state in the country has. And it comes at an enormous cost -- given the high fees set by health care providers that take advantage of the requirement.

Medical fees in Michigan cost 2 to 3 times more than other types of insurance.

Another factor pushing up premiums is fraud - problems with drivers and insurance agencies abusing the system.

But lawmakers --- it seems -- are taking notice, with two competing plans proposed just last month.
The first was announced by Democratic state rep Tim Greimel and a dozen other legislators. 

It calls for keeping the medical lifetime benefit intact, with a fee schedule that limits how much providers can charge.

It also establishes a fraud authority to crack down on abuse.

Proponents say it’ll give drivers a 20 to 30 percent rate reduction.

The second proposal, spearheaded by Republican house speaker Tom Leonard and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, also calls for a medical fee schedule and fraud authority. 

However, the defining difference is that this bill argues the state should get rid of the lifetime medical benefit as a  requirement and instead allow for drivers to choose the level of protection they want. Savings, proponents say, would be 20 to 50 percent.

Both proposals are expected to get some push back in the senate.

But even though we’re far from the finish line, these Detroiters tell me they’re more hopeful now then ever before.

"We actually have a chance. It could go through. It could happen. People need to see relief," Whitsett added.