Friday, May 10, 2013

Hey lawmakers: Don't mess with Michigan's no-fault insurance

Imagine waking up paralyzed from the neck down or not knowing your name.
That, unfortunately, is the reality for tens of thousands of Americans who are severely injured yearly in traffic accidents.
Then imagine after learning you can't feel your toes, wiggle your fingers or even scratch your nose that it's impossible for you to pay for the medical care, which easily climbs into the millions of dollars about as fast as the national debt has risen in the past six years.
Not only do you fight for every breath to live, you risk losing your life savings, your home and being able to provide for your spouse and children.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has learned some of these things after he was severely injured in a traffic accident last August at an Auburn Hills intersection. Months later, Patterson is still not 100 percent physically, but he has changed. Tears flowed down his face in his first news conference when he talked about "taking 162 steps."
Only someone who has a mobility impairment or was born with a paralyzing disability can understand why it was such an emotional moment when Patterson spoke of coming back as his daughter sat next to him in front of reporters. His 162 steps are equivalent to an able-bodied person doing a marathon and then some.
Patterson deserves a great deal of credit for working so hard that he could return to work after being critically injured in a collision at an Auburn Hills intersection last August. He was lucky. His medical costs were paid for under Workers Compensation.
For others who are injured, Michigan's No Fault coverage through auto insurance pays lifetime unlimited benefits, something some Republican lawmakers want to kill along with insurance companies.
Patterson, because of the accident, is more aware of the needs of those with disabilities and is a strong advocate for not changing Michigan's No-Fault insurance to capping medical coverage at $1 million as is being proposed in House Bill 4612. That measure is part of Gov. Snyder's plan to get rid of the unlimited lifetime benefits.
$1 million is chump change when one has a closed-head or spinal cord injury. That amount of money can be spent on medical bills in about three months.
"It doesn't take much to blow through a million or two pretty darn quickly," Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, said in a recent interview.
Patterson's driver, a retired Michigan State Police trooper, incurred a spinal cord injury at C2 and is completely paralyzed and being kept alive by being on a ventilator. His medical costs easily have moved into the seven-figure range since when he was injured last summer.
Rep. Pete Lund, a Shelby Township Republican and chairman of the House Insurance Committee and sponsor of the bill, isn't saying if the measure is dead in the lower chamber.
But, thankfully, there's not enough GOP support for the bill to be approved, especially since no House Democrat is going to back the legislation.
Snyder, however, insists our insurance costs are too high.
There are seven House Republicans from Oakland County alone and another three from the west side of the state who are opposed to eliminating no-fault, Crain's Detroit Business reported.
Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, opposes killing Michigan's no-fault insurance although she usually backs Republican-introduced legislation.
She said the current bill is worse than a similar one introduced last year that was a flop.
Lund said Michigan wouldn't leave their injured people to die but taxpayers instead of insurance companies would have to pick up the cost if no fault is eliminated.
That's not right and it also is immoral not to provide the best medical help we can to those who become newly disabled through no fault of their own. Just ask Patterson. I'm sure he'll tell you how hard the road back to health and even walking can be.

Jerry Wolffe is the Disability Rights Advocate at Large/Writer in Residence at MORC Inc., a nonprofit that provides services to 5,100 people with disabilities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.