Our most vulnerable auto crash victims are about to be struck again

by | May 23, 2021 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

One day you are yourself, the next day you are not. All you remember is the car swerving. Or the impact of the truck. Or maybe you don’t remember anything, but you wake up in the hospital with a halo around your neck and you can’t feel your toes or your feet or your legs or your hands and your life is forever changed. A part of it is over for good.

This is not something that only happens to others. It could be you. It could be your child. It could be your spouse.

It could be today.

We talk so much about social justice and treating people right and watching out for others and making sure we don’t hurt anyone. Well. A law passed two years ago, sneakily, in the wee hours of a Michigan morning, that wasn’t just, that wasn’t right, that hurts people, all in exchange for an over-hyped promise of lower insurance rates.

And the damage it is about to do will be immeasurable.

Michigan’s no-fault insurance law, which robbed us of our most unique offering to our fellow citizens — unlimited, lifetime medical care to those involved in catastrophic auto accidents — is now about to shut down the way our state cares for its most vulnerable population.

It will rob them of the places they go and the people they depend upon.

It will make thousands of health care workers unemployed.

And it will leave the patients they once cared for, as Erica Coulston, who has been in a wheelchair the last 20 years, puts it: “terrified.”

Insult on top of injury.

Leaving people high and dry

Here’s the problem. Part of the new law demands that, as of July 1, the businesses that care for our most severely injured must make a 45% reduction in their fees.

That’s 45 percent. Find me many businesses that can still operate when forced to cut their rates by 45%. There aren’t too many — and certainly not in the fields of attendant care, home care or rehabilitation care.

Those nurses that come to your home and change your bandages and help you bathe and get you in and out of your wheelchair? You think they can keep doing that with a 45% reduction?

That rehab place with all those smiling therapists who use those amazing machines to move your limbs and retrain your legs? You think that place stays open with a 45% reduction?

“These businesses are already getting ready to close up,” said Nicole Ulrich, a nurse and owner of Rehab Innovations Case Management in Waterford, which, she says, is also on the precipice. “We have about 360 patients at any given time going through my company. And we’re being notified by these other companies saying, ‘You need to find someone else to take care of your patient.’ Well, there isn’t someone else, because they’re all in the same boat.”

This is tragic. Not long ago, Michigan boasted the finest outlets of rehabilitation care. We were the only state in the U.S. to offer lifetime benefits to victims of severe auto accidents, so it made sense that lots of excellent facilities would take root here.

But a 45% cut in what they can charge means shutters coming down in many of those places. Eight out of every 10 of them will close, according to a study cited by the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council.

This will leave victims of brain injuries and spinal cord injuries with few alternatives. These are people who in many cases can’t walk, dress or go to the bathroom on their own. Now they are expected to arrange their own attendant care? And get by with less of it?

The insurance companies and their lackeys will say, “Those people can still go where Medicare pays for it.” But with all these attendant and rehab care businesses closing due to the rate cuts, that only choice may be elderly care facilities. Will we put victims in their 20s and 30’s there for life? How much crueler can we be?

Insult on top of injury.

What you can do to help

There is something that can be done. You can actually do it. It’s simple, yet effective. You can let the two people who represent you in the state House and state Senate know you want this changed. Tell them to quickly pass House Bill 4486 and Senate Bill 314, which will allow for a fix to this portion of the law.

Email them. Or call them. Two people. That’s all. It’ll take 5 minutes. It needs to be done now, because the Legislature breaks in a few weeks, and after that, it’s too late.

You want to care for others? Support social justice? Make the call. Write the email.

Listen to Coulston, who was injured in a car accident when she was 23 (she wasn’t even driving) and was left paralyzed from the chest down. Thanks to our old law, she was able to get great care, to thrive, and to start her own rehabilitation business in Southfield.

“I’m 43 years old now, I’m a mom, I own a business, I’m a productive member of society, because of my benefits,” she said. “Without that, it’s a very scary situation.

“This whole community is very worried for our futures, because the care and the therapy that we’ve been receiving — and quite frankly, that we were promised — is in jeopardy. Survivors that were injured before the law passed were supposed to be grandfathered, but now we’re being told that we are not grandfathered.

“The legislators in favor of this say, ‘Well, you know, nothing will change.’ But if the providers that provide my care are not around, then something has changed.

“From the survivor perspective, and from the community that our business serves, we’re terrified.”

People like Coulston who must battle every minute of their existence shouldn’t be terrified, not because of a bill pushed through by insurance companies that continues to make them rich while weakening the safeguards of our society.

And by the way, how many of us have actually noticed a gigantic drop in our auto insurance rates? Funny how that works, isn’t it?

So please. Take 5 minutes to contact your state reps. The mark of a society is the compassion it shows its neediest citizens. We need to show some now.

One day you are yourself, one day you are not. One day it could be you, and you’ll wish we acted sooner.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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