You never think about it until it happens to you. Then a car crashes, and your 4-year-old is on a ventilator. Your teenaged daughter is paralyzed. Your husband has permanent brain damage.
Suddenly, the issue of how you care for these loved ones is very real. And how you pay for it is bruising reality. Medical costs can burn through $1 million as if you threw it in a furnace.
For more than 40 years, thanks to a vote we, the people, took in the 1970s, Michigan has led the nation in compassion for victims of catastrophic accidents, people like Erica Coulston, who used to spring out of bed each morning as an active, vivacious 23-year-old. Then, in 2007, a car crash in which she wasn’t even driving left her “in the blink of an eye … a quadriplegic … paralysis of my legs, arms, hands and trunk muscles. … I can no longer sweat like I used to. … I have no bladder or bowel control. … I require assistance with showering, dressing, preparing meals. … I have chronic neuropathic pain …”
She said all this in a testimony this past week before our state legislators, the majority of whom were insensitive enough to keep rushing through a bill that would change Erica’s life and those of victims like her forever.
It is shameless. And it must be stopped.
You always should be wary when lawmakers move fast. This same body that couldn’t get its act together to fix our roads — so it told US to go vote on them — has somehow greased a bill that spent one day in a Senate committee, three days in a House committee and could be voted on the floor this week — what? huh? — a bill that would cap, cut, alter and reassign the benefits that catastrophic victims rely on.
Oh. And they’re inserting a provision to make sure we, the people, can never vote on it — even though we were the ones who created this thing and upheld it twice in statewide votes.
Angry yet? You should be furious. Because this bill would take the responsibility of determining what a victim like Erica needs away from a physician and put it in the hands of an adjuster. (Warning flares!) It would make you fight for benefits challenged by insurance companies — who have lawyers on their payrolls — tying you up for months or years, and even if you win, no legal costs would be reimbursed. It would do things like limit nurses or caregivers to one per person (ever tried to lift a large man who’s paralyzed with one nurse?) and cap amounts paid at 150% of what Medicare covers, which they want you to think is generous, until you realize how Medicare woefully limits care and doesn’t even provide many services we now offer. How can you have 150% of nothing?
Why this sudden hurry? Because the relatively small fee each of us has paid per car over the years has built up a victims’ fund that creates palpable lust, like that dragon’s gold in “The Hobbit.”
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who has spent his life in politics, explained it this way to me: “The fund was created to protect the most vulnerable people in society. … Today it has about $20 billion, but the legislators can’t get to it. … The insurance companies can’t get to it, and it’s driving them crazy. And they’re doing anything they can to tear down that gate.”
This bill would do that, phasing out the entity that controls the fund and opening loopholes through which the insurance companies could refund themselves.
How do they and their government lackeys get the audacity to try this? By “covering” it with talk of costly auto insurance rates. Michigan’s are among the highest in the U.S. (That’s greatly skewed by Detroit’s rates.) And this bill would lower rates by $100 a car — BUT ONLY FOR TWO YEARS!
Will we sell our souls that cheaply?
Who’s kidding who? Whenever insurance companies want something, they threaten high rates or claim they can lower them. I ask you: When, long-term, does that ever happen? Even more to the point: When’s the last time you saw an insurance company suffering?
On the other hand, you can see car crash victims suffering every day in our state. You can see them wheeling into Erica Coulston’s chosen business, a Southfield rehab center for victims like herself — a business she can operate and which clients can come to largely because of our no-fault law.
Without it, these people could be relegated to facilities, or left alone in the house while loved ones scramble for work to pay huge medical costs.
We have to stop this. Not to be scary, but chances are one of you reading this column today will be involved in a catastrophic accident. And when the money runs out, when you’re denied claims, have to fight, when your savings are depleted and your family is beaten down, do you think these legislators are coming by to help you?
Call your representatives. First thing Monday. Tell him or her to vote no. You easily can find them at legislature.mi.gov.
Because you never think about it until it happens to you. And by then it will be too late.