Opinion: Legislature must help those injured in catastrophic auto accidents
As a physical therapist for more than 20 years, I have heard thousands of personal stories from my patients. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed the detrimental effects caused by a lack of health care access.
Ensuring access to health care is what called me to public service. However, as we approach July 1, the looming loss of health care coverage becomes excruciatingly more real for thousands of Michiganders.
Every day, my office receives more heart-wrenching stories from our residents, including individuals and families involved in catastrophic auto accidents.
The needs of individuals receiving catastrophic injuries in car accidents are abstract to those who are fortunate enough to not have a loved one whose life has been permanently altered by these injuries. But I can assure you, if you or a loved one are ever impacted by such an accident, you will want all the help you can get to maximize your function and quality of life.
I’ll share one story from Kalamazoo: Lisa (name changed to protect her identity, but permission was received to share her case) was in a car accident in the mid-1990s and had coverage under Michigan’s former auto no-fault policy. The driver in the car was paralyzed, and she was ejected out of the vehicle, flew through the air and hit a tree, resulting in both a spinal cord and brain injury that significantly altered her life and placed her in a wheelchair. Her life was forever changed in the blink of an eye.
After her extensive hospitalization, she received intensive subacute rehabilitation. When she was medically stabilized, Lisa moved into a group home with a small number of other individuals and requires 24/7 skilled nursing care to continue to lead the quality life she currently lives. Without her ongoing care from skilled health care providers, she would significantly decline. And although she must have help doing even the most basic tasks, like dressing, bathing and transferring out of her bed to her chair, her quality of life is maximized and maintained to the greatest extent possible.
This highly skilled, individualized care is invaluable to Lisa.
The clock is ticking on Lisa’s quality of life. As of July 1, the new fee schedule will go into effect that will only reimburse rehabilitation agency providers 55 percent of the Medicare fee schedule. This will likely result in many rehabilitation providers, group homes and others going out of business in Michigan.
Let me be clear: Without intervention and a change in state law, after July 1, Lisa could be homeless or possibly moved to a facility that may not be the best setting for her complex injuries. Lisa will surely decline in function and quality of life.
To add insult to these injuries, insurance corporations continue taking in record profits. These earnings continued in 2020 during a time where so many were struggling to adjust to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, what can we do? For starters, House Bill 4486, introduced by Rep. Doug Wozniak, and Senate Bill 314, introduced by Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., have been stalled in the Legislature and have yet to receive a committee hearing. These bills offer a technical fix to the provider fee schedule and are cost-neutral. If passed, HB 4486 would enable patients to continue to receive the direct skilled care they desperately need and rely on without jeopardizing controls on costs.
The Legislature has the opportunity to help auto accident survivors and their families by improving the auto insurance laws – but time is running extremely short. The House and Senate Insurance Committees must act now.
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