The Detroit News. June 23, 2020.

Whitmer must answer for nursing home policy

Evidence that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was warned early on that her COVID-19 nursing home policy would put residents at risk lends support for much more transparency from the governor.

The Detroit News reports that in the opening days of the pandemic’s appearance in Michigan, the head of a statewide elder care association wrote a letter urging the governor to house those infected with COVID-19 in separate facilities away from the general nursing home population.

The letter from Melissa Samuel, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of Michigan, was sent on March 13, three days after the first case was reported here. Samuel urged the governor to move infected patients into unused facilities.

The advice was not followed. Instead, Whitmer issued an executive order that required facilities at less than 80% capacity to take in COVID-19 patients.

While she stipulated that the infected residents should be housed in separate wings and attended by staff adequately protected from the virus, inspections have found many nursing homes did not meet that standard.

The state has reported at least 1,947 deaths among individuals who lived in elder care facilities and 20 deaths among staff. The tally accounts for at least one-third of the virus deaths in Michigan. That reported number tracks with the national average, but a number of nursing homes in Michigan have not yet reported their statistics.

Whitmer has stuck with her policy despite ongoing evidence that the virus was ravaging nursing homes, and even after other states, including New York, abandoned similar orders. It continues to this day despite evidence it may have put thousands of lives at risk.

The administration contends there was not enough time to staff, equip and license separate facilities, and that the temporary hospital built at the TCF Center and only lightly used was not suitable to care for patients from nursing homes.

Whitmer this week refused to participate in a GOP-led U.S. House probe into nursing home deaths nationwide. Such congressional hearings often become kangaroo courts, and can be more about pressing partisan agendas than solving problems. But the governor still owes her Michigan constituents answers to key questions.

Why didn’t she react when reports of escalating nursing home deaths first began coming in? Did the administration pause at any point to assess the impact of its policy? What science and data was used to inform the executive order? Does she have solid reasons for not following the lead of other states in changing her orders?

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said the Legislature is “intensely seeking” answers.

Last week the Legislature passed a resolution condemning the practice of comingling COVID-19 positive patients with healthy residents, and this week the Senate will vote on a bill that forbids the practice.

Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, called in mid-May on the Justice Department and Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate the possibility of negligence in issuing the executive order. Lucido said he has heard from U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider that he is considering the request, but there’s been no word from from Nessel.

Whitmer should not be exempt from scrutiny of her decision making under the state of emergency. The extraordinary powers granted a governor makes full transparency of how she exercises that authority even more vital than in normal times.

Nearly 2,000 people have died over the past three months in Michigan nursing homes. Citizens deserve to know whether some of those deaths might have been avoided had the governor responded better to evidence of the unfolding devastation.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). June 26, 2020.

Don’t listen to social media for jobless benefits advice

We completely understand the frustration many Michiganders have experienced trying to get squared away with unemployment benefits.

These are frustrating times, indeed, but on Thursday, Michigan Attorney General Nessel issued a consumer alert on unemployment misinformation on social media.

It has been a struggle for many who are trying to apply for and obtain unemployment benefits. But misinformation can make the situation worse — perhaps even dire. As Nessel’s alert encouraged Michiganders, now is the time to be aware that offers via social media to assist claimants with the benefit process are likely scams.

And that the answers provided to unemployment-related questions may contain misinformation that encourages claimants to commit fraud.

“Our state has seen an unprecedented uptick in unemployment claims as a result of COVID-19. Delays in processing have caused a great deal of frustration for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who are simply doing all they can to make ends meet, but I want to urge residents to stay alert when taking to social media for answers or advice,” Nessel said in the release. “There is no guarantee that these answers have been vetted or that the individuals promising to help can actually do so. Do not under any circumstance pay a fee or offer up your personal information to someone on social media.”

A release from Nessel’s office asked Michiganders to be mindful:

≤ Do not fall for scams: If a post is offering to help you with any portion of the benefit process for a fee, do not fall for it. There is no guarantee that the person behind the post actually intends to assist you or can help you, and you may never receive the services you pay for. In addition, if a user offers to assist you and requests your personal information, do not fall for it. This is likely an attempt to steal your personal information to commit identity theft and obtain the benefits that you are rightfully entitled to.

≤ Inaccurate answers: The information provided on social media has not been vetted and may not be accurate. While the answers may seem to provide quick fixes, you may ultimately be led down the wrong path. This could result in further delays in your receipt of benefits, the denial of benefits and in the case of fraud, administrative or criminal penalties.

Nessel’s office encourages people to ensure they have accurate information and follow the proper channels. Those looking for help can visit the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency’s website. Claimants may also call the UIA Customer Service line at 1-866-500-0017 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and follow the prompts.

For answers to frequently asked questions, visit the UIA online on the michigan.gov website.

We certainly hope people heed the AG’s advice and do not get scammed on top of everything else that’s created angst during the past few months.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 26, 2020.

Give us a break on car insurance

Michigan tops plenty of “best” lists, those incessant rankings that seem to permeate our digital news feeds. The Mitten state also makes a few “worst” lists.

Plenty are little more than click-bait popularity contests, but one causes continuous angst among drivers: Auto insurance rates.

For decades, Michigan drivers have suffered the most expensive auto insurance in the nation, a pocketbook pummeling many attribute to the state’s historic requirement insurance include unlimited lifetime medical costs for those seriously injured in crashes.

A Business Insider examination of auto insurance rates found Michigan drivers shoulder a worst-in-the-nation average annual premium cost of more than $3,300. That’s more than 30 percent more expensive than Louisiana, the next in line in the cost ranking.

That profane gap is why lawmakers last year took a crack at reforming the state’s auto insurance regulations. They hoped to give drivers a break by fixing some serious malfunctions in the regulatory system that caused the state’s outlier status.

Many correctly asked questions we all wonder about each time we open our car insurance bills. How can we blindly claim Michigan does car insurance correctly when literally every other state boasts substantially lower rates than ours? Wouldn’t it be nice to pay more reasonable rates like our friends and family who live in other Great Lakes States?

Average rates in those states are between $1,100 and $1,400, according to the Business Insider analysis.

Some of the reforms passed in 2019 go into effect on July 1, and many contend Michigan drivers will see meaningful reductions in their car insurance bills. Thus far, most insurers have kept new rate structures under wraps.

Those who’ve already received statements for the upcoming year’s premiums say the reductions are more modest than expected — about 10 percent.

And 10 percent is a far cry from the meaningful reduction most of us probably hoped for, certainly not enough to reel our rates to within the range our neighbors pay in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

We, and many of you, will continue to hope for some meaningful reduction in our car insurance bills.

But it doesn’t appear we should expect enough change to be called a “reform.”

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