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'Totally getting worse:' One year after auto no-fault changes went into effect, survivors struggle to find care

The reform was designed to save people money and led to $400 refunds for drivers. Many say there were unintended results of the reform, like stripping their care.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Melissa Springsteen spends the day after Independence Day on the lake with her sons. It's a regular summer day she does not take for granted, and one that would not be possible without her caregivers. 

"I can’t get out of bed, I can't empty my bladder, I can’t take a shower," said Springsteen, "I can’t get dressed. I can’t do any of that on my own."

Springsteen was in an auto accident years ago, leaving her in a wheelchair and unable to move herself in and out of it without care. 

However, she said since July 1 of 2021, when the no-fault auto reform went into effect, finding that care has been a challenge. The problem is a reimbursement cap for home care giver agencies, and a limit on paid in-home care hours. 

Impact on auto accident survivors: 

"People in my situations are getting put into hospitals and assisted living facilities," said Springsteen, "I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to miss birthday parties and days like this. I don’t want to miss a girl trip shopping. I don’t want to miss out on life because the Michigan legislation can’t seem to get it together."

Springsteen has been to the state capitol many times in the past year, urging lawmakers to make a change. She is told there were unintended consequences of the reform law, which was meant to save drivers money. 

"Well, if it was unintended, then fix it!" said Springsteen, "Because the longer you take, it seems to be pretty intended."

Supporters of auto no-fault reform say it saves drivers money on car insurance, and highlight the $400 refund checks Michigan drivers received this year. 

Sandy Poland, also an accident survivor, has trouble finding caregivers for the evenings. She said there just are not enough caregivers working in the field, as the agencies are not able to compensate them for the difficult, but essential, job they do. 

"It’s just a constant daily battle not knowing if I'm going to have somebody, if I won’t have somebody," said Poland, "What the changes were that were made, were not in the interest of anyone injured in an auto accident."

One of the other major consequences of the reform was a fee-schedule on rehabilitation clinics. This has caused many issues for the clinics and their ability to treat auto-insurance patients. 

"People now that choose to have unlimited, what are they paying for?" said Springsteen, "Because there’s no one out here to provide them their care at home, so why is it even an option? People are paying in for something they won’t be able to receive, and no one is doing anything to fix it."

The impact on rehab systems: 

Last fall, the Brain Injury Association of Michigan commissioned a report by the Michigan Public Health Institute looking into the impact of the fee structure changes in the no-fault auto insurance reform law taking effect on July 1, 2021. 

As of October 2021, it found 3,049 jobs were eliminated from brain injury service providers and 1,548 patients had to be discharged. 

About 96% of organizations reported its services were impacted by the 55% reimbursement cap. Of that, 96 could no longer accept new patients with auto insurance funding, 140 had to significantly reduce services. 

Twenty one had to close operations completely. 

Another two surveys are planned for 2022.

Matthew Cox, the chief financial officer for Beaumont Health Spectrum Health, said when the changes were in effect in March, their payments were cut by $65 million. That is "a huge amount of money for us," he said.

One of the biggest impacts of the reform for Spectrum Health is closing Residential Rehabilitation, a long-term neuro care program.

"The cuts were so significant, that the payments wouldn't even cover the staff that were there taking care of the patients," said Cox in March 2022, "So, we had to close that. There's no pathway for us to have sustainable operations."

Spectrum Health was able to give residents of that facility the option to be admitted to the skilled nursing facility.

What has happened in the past year to fix auto no-fault issues impacting accident survivors:

Multiple bills have been introduced to both the state House and Senate to fix portions of the no fault reform. All have stalled in Lansing.

Now, Michigan Legislature is on summer break, without holding a vote on fixing auto no-fault. 

In March, House Speaker Jason Wentworth said "it's time to move on," about proposals to fix the 2019 law that brought down auto insurance payments. It came as $400 rebate checks made their way into Michiganders' mailboxes. 

In early June, oral arguments began in the Michigan Court of Appeals, on a key case on changes to the no-fault auto law. 

Plaintiffs representing accident survivors and medical associations argue those injured prior to the 2019 change should not have a change in their coverage. 

Defendants representing insurance companies argue the law was written to include care and treatment, meaning those injured prior do fall under the new law and coverage. 

In March, a Washtenaw County judge ruled in favor of an accident survivor. He granted a motion, ordering the insurance company to process and pay all of the plaintiff's home-care bills from July 2, 2021. That is when the no fault auto reform went into effect. 

The judge also found "the new fee scheduled found under no fault reform is unconstitutional." 

RELATED VIDEO: Crash survivors rally for no-fault auto insurance fix at state capital

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