On June 23, 1996, my life changed forever when I was a passenger in a car accident and became quadriplegic. I was 15. On July 1, 2021, my life will change forever once again when more no-fault insurance reforms go into effect. These changes will reduce the amount no-fault insurance pays to my caretakers by 45 percent.
I need 24-hour attendant care in order to work, contribute to my community, live in my home — to live, period. I go to physical rehab twice a week. I do everything to keep myself healthy and out of the hospital. I cannot even go to the bathroom without assistance. But my brain works fine, I can push my own wheelchair, and with hand controls I can drive my accessible van. I work full time, pay taxes, serve on community boards, and receive health insurance from my employer. All this is possible because of attendant care.
I work for a home healthcare provider that pays our caretakers about $14 per hour — above the minimum wage of $9.65 — but we still have a difficult time finding staff. What will happen when the attendant care benefit is cut by 45 percent?
In 2019, my state senator, Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), sponsored the bill to reform no-fault insurance. At the same time, my state representative, Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Township), looked me in the eye and told me the no-fault reform would not impact my quality of life. Sen. Nesbitt assured me in an email that “the new law has nothing to do with the hourly pay of caretakers; the only changes on this topic are restricting family attendant care to 56 hours per week.”
Not true! During an April 30 forum hosted by Disability Network Lakeshore, Rep. Whiteford acknowledged she wrongly assumed that I — plus thousands of Michiganders like me — lived on government assistance and did not have jobs or productive lives.
This revelation brought me to tears. It turns out neither Whiteford nor Nesbitt has been honest with me. I’ve long had the impression that legislators do not really understand what I’ve been talking about since no-fault reform got serious. These revelations confirmed it.
With Rep. Whiteford’s assumptions now in the light, I assume that all who supported Sen. Nesbitt’s bill in 2019 never actually understood it. And that Sen. Nesbitt made the same faulty assumptions about people like me. This is so deeply hurtful that I’m losing faith in our political process, especially in those who represent me.
The details of the July 1 reductions are catastrophic and go beyond those who, like me, are able to live at home — thanks to the personal attendant care benefit that’s paid from no-fault insurance reserves that have mushroomed over several decades. The July 1 reductions will directly impact a total of 18,140 of us who receive attendant care benefits, including those who (unlike me) receive their care in residential facilities. Few residential care facilities in Michigan that will be able to survive these drastic, across-the-board cuts.
Our legislators have two options to avert these cuts: 1) delay these new implementations and truly research the savings/loss to the taxpayers; and/or 2) pass one of the two bills that have been drafted as a fix — House Bill 4486 or Senate Bill 314 — that seek a capped rate instead of a forced 45 percent discount. This will allow the lower-priced providers to stay in business, whereas the “45 percent discount” will just reward high, overpriced providers who can still make the business model work under a large discount.
Many of us who were promised lifetime benefits at the time of our automobile accident have been sold a half-truth about no-fault reform. Yes, technically one can say that people still have lifetime benefits, but the long-term care benefits will be paid at 55 percent going forward, which removes true access to long-term care. These benefits do not have value if there is not a care provider to accept the extremely low payment amount.
What will happen if the July 1 changes are allowed to go into effect? Survivors like me will end up in a nursing home (eventually at the state’s expense) or we’ll be homeless. Home healthcare providers will collapse, and invaluable people will lose their tax-generating jobs that include health insurance, further straining an overburdened unemployment system.
I will not survive long in a nursing home, and I cannot live without adequate care. On July 1, 18,000 survivors like me will suddenly have nowhere to go, and residential facilities providing care to thousands injured in automobile accidents will go out of business.
Do residents of the state of Michigan really want to absorb the additional financial burden of taking care of us?
— Amber Marcy is gainfully employed and lives in her own home in Saugatuck, Michigan. She is president of the board of directors for Disability Network Lakeshore, a Center for Independent Living serving Allegan and Ottawa counties.