GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A big change in Michigan’s automotive insurance laws means less help or none at all for some who suffer catastrophic injuries in car crashes, according to advocates.
The change went into effect Wednesday, about two years after state lawmakers passed reforms eliminating the state’s no-fault system.
“We’re getting calls from people absolutely distressed, receiving notification from their insurance companies requiring them to serve long-term, multiyear agreements, cutting their services, and it’s truly horrific,” said Tom Constand, president of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan.
Nicole Hackett, 51, of Flushing, near Flint, understands the need. She said that without no-fault coverage, there’s no way she could have recovered after a driver ran her off the road and into a tree in 1988.
She was 18, five days from graduating high school, with plans for a career in dance. The crash injured part of the brain that controls muscle coordination.
She figures her treatment, including five months at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, cost more than $1 million.
“I was in a coma for a month, and when I came out of that coma, I had trouble doing everything, from walking, to talking, to writing, to going to the bathroom,” she said. “I was an infant in a woman’s body, infant abilities, and I was able to come out of there using a walker and able to do everything that a normal 18-year-old would be doing.”
State lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 allowing drivers to choose how much personal injury protection they want. Before, they were required to buy unlimited lifetime coverage.
The legislation was in response to the state having the nation’s highest auto insurance premiums. It scaled back reimbursements by 45% for health providers that treat accident victims.
The Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council said that 6,000 victims of brain and spinal injuries are expected to lose care, many of them immediately, and that nearly 5,000 health care providers could lose jobs.
“A 45% pay cut is unsustainable for any business, I don’t care how many years you’ve had to prepare for it,” Constand of the Brain Injury Association of Michigan said. “It’s like finding out your execution day is two years from now; prepare for it.”
Some patients already have moved to other facilities, he said, but some will be forced to move back home, or back to hospitals.
“The volume of people being displaced outweighs the volume of beds available at other facilities,” Constand said.
Without treatment, Hackett figures she would have ended up in a nursing home after her 1988 car crash.
“I would definitely be in some institute or facility or whatever they have now for people who can’t take care of themselves,” she said.
Instead, she got her master’s degree from Michigan State University, is married and has two kids.
“No one knows the future. You don’t know if the next traumatic brain injury person could be you,” she said. “I mean if it would be you, you’d want to have the best opportunity at survival and to lead a productive life, wouldn’t you?”
In a statement released to News 8, the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, a lobbying group that represents the industry, said the reform is working:
“The reforms are lowering rates for drivers across the state, bringing more competition into Michigan and encouraging tens of thousands of people to get car insurance again because they can finally afford it — all while ensuring drivers with unlimited, lifetime medical benefits can still receive care,” the group said.
“For the last several months, our member companies have been working around the clock with case managers and, at times, directly with families to ensure care can continue as defined in Michigan’s auto no-fault law. Drivers previously injured in a car crash will still receive unlimited, lifetime medical benefits and drivers who choose that option after July 2 will receive the same lifetime care,” the statement continued.
“The reasonable medical fee schedule that takes effect July 1 will rein in overcharging by medical providers, which has gone unchecked for decades and contributed to Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance premiums. Each long-term care case is different and takes time to resolve. We encourage families who are hearing from their medical providers that care may be ending or changing — and have yet to reach out to their case manager or auto insurance company — to do so as soon as possible.”