Ontario Government Under Growing Pressure To Reject Cuts to Auto Insurance Benefits

TORONTO, May 28 /CNW/ – A growing number of health care professionals and organizations are speaking out about the devastating impact that the proposed changes to auto insurance will have on accident victims in Ontario.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is now reviewing recommendations from the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) that would, if implemented, slash basic accident benefits from $100,000 to $25,000. A decision is expected by the end of June.

“It’s a huge step backwards,” says Dr. Peter Rumney, Senior Physician Director of Rehabilitation and Complex Continuing Care at Bloorview Kids Rehab. Dr. Rumney treats children with brain injuries, often resulting from auto accidents, and he knows from long experience what’s needed to properly support and care for these youngsters who can have lifelong disabilities.

“The proposed $25,000 cap for rehab services for ‘non- catastrophic’ claims, would, in most cases, be exhausted in three months. It might cover a wheelchair, a couple of modifications to a house and a month of nursing care. It will not cover the multiple therapies needed in the first two years to produce the best long- term outcomes,” Dr. Rumney explains.

Some of these children were walking or riding a bike when struck by a vehicle. Under the proposed new regime in Ontario, they too would have been limited to receiving only $25,000 in accident benefits if the drivers had only the basic coverage.

Dr. Donna Ouchterlony, Medical Director of the Brain Injury Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, warns that if the province proceeds to slash basic medical and rehab benefits, significant numbers of accident victims will not receive the necessary level of treatment. “The loss of the $100,000 for their rehabilitation will result in increased numbers being unable to return to work and to productive lives,” she notes.

In a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Home Care Association (OHCA) expresses deep concern about the negative consequences of these cuts for both auto accident victims and the publicly-funded health care system.

“The adoption of this recommendation will shift responsibility for rehabilitation from private providers paid for by the insurance companies to the public health care system,” says the OHCA letter. “The added pressure on our healthcare system will undoubtedly result in longer wait periods and less services for all Ontarians.”

The Alliance of Community Medical and Rehabilitation Providers estimates that the proposed reduction in basic accident benefits could result in about $700 million in cost savings for the insurance industry in Ontario.

“The savings for the insurance industry will result in a corresponding increase in costs for the health system as accident victims, after exhausting their $25,000, will have to turn to the publicly-funded system,” says Patricia Howell, an Alliance spokesperson and occupational therapist. “This amounts to a transfer of costs from insurance companies to the public health system.”

Some 12,000 people sustain serious injuries from car crashes in Ontario each year. These individuals often need many months or years of services. They simply won’t get that level of treatment in the public system.

“The argument has been put forward that people will just turn to publicly-funded health services. Even if the highly specialized services were available through OHIP, the wait times are going to be prohibitive,” says John Kumpf, Executive Director of the Ontario Brain Injury Association.

The government might argue that consumers will be able to purchase optional coverage. But “given the cost of insurance, current economic pressures and the lack of knowledge about the implications of this benefit, the vast majority of drivers will not purchase optional medical and rehabilitation benefit coverage,” says the Toronto Acquired Brain Injury Network in a letter to Minister Duncan and Health and Long-Term Care Minister David Caplan.

Representing 20 publicly-funded hospital, community-based organizations, consumer groups and other organizations in the GTA, the Network points out that without adequate rehab “many injured Ontarians will never return to independent living or gainful employment and will contribute to increased social and economic costs.”

The various groups opposed to the reduction of accident benefits are urging the Finance Minister to reject the FSCO recommendation. Consumers are encouraged to contact their MPP and email Finance Minister Dwight Duncan directly at dwight.duncan(at)ontario.ca. As well, consumers can sign an online petition at www.feelinglucky.ca.

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