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‘This is a death sentence.’ No-fault reform leaves auto crash survivors scrambling

Families of the catastrophically injured plead for help while lawmakers on break
Posted at 4:21 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 18:29:08-04

(WXYZ) — Dillon Bond clung to life seven years ago after he was struck by a car while crossing M-59.

“He didn’t have more than a 20% chance of surviving that night,” recalled his mother Rebecca Bond-Tucker. “The doctors told me they didn’t think he would make it.”

The 14-year-old was put in a medically induced coma, then spent the next six months in hospitals. He survived, but the costs were staggering. Dillon suffered a traumatic brain injury robbed him of his speech, mobility and the life he’d only begun to live.

“He was very sweet,” his mother said. “Respectful, intelligent…I miss him.”

But through the pain of Dillon’s catastrophic accident, his family still found a silver lining. He had been kept alive, they said, by Michigan’s No-Fault insurance law, often celebrated by victim’s families as a safety net for the most vulnerable.

“Prior to my son’s accident, I did feel like auto insurance was expensive here,” Bond-Tucker said. “But after his accident, I realized the value of what we had been paying for.”

Every day, Dillon needs round-the-clock, 24-hour care from a team of medical providers just to keep him alive. They bathe him in the morning, brush his teeth and help him shave. They dress him and comb his hair, followed by physical and occupational therapy.

Dillon is fed his meals through a tube in his abdomen, his catheter is emptied and changed and he needs help to empty his bowels.

That’s just the start.

Following his accident in 2014, his mother quit her job because managing her son’s care became her full-time occupation.

“I can’t imagine not caring for him the way that we do,” she said, “and now we’re in danger of all of that going away. It’s already started happening.”

The reductions in Dillon’s care were made possible two years ago on Mackinac Island, when Governor Whitmer signed a Republican-sponsored bill into law reforming the state’s auto insurance system.

It was meant to reign in Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation insurance rates, allowing buyers to buy less coverage, rather than unlimited lifetime medical no-fault coverage.

But regardless of which option you chose, reimbursement rates for some of the most critical services would be slashed by 45%. Hit hardest were residential recovery homes and in-home attendants: the very people helping to keep Dillon Bond alive.

Within weeks of the changes, four nursing assistants who cared for the 21-year-old quit after their pay was slashed. Dillon’s mom had to fill in.

“How many hours did you work last week just caring for Dillon?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“Sixty-seven,” she replied.

The changes took effect July 1, but some providers began cutting back services weeks earlier in anticipation of major losses.

“This doesn’t even make any sense,” said John Cornack, CEO of the Eisenhower Center in Ann Arbor. “The whole legislation can only be harmful.”

Since 1993, the Eisenhower Center has treated the most catastrophically injured—not just in Michigan but across the country—from NFL players to veterans to those devastated by auto accidents.

“The families, they get to a point where (they say): ‘We can’t help him anymore. We need to have a place to go where we know they’re safe, but where we also know they’re getting better,’” Cornack said.

In the weeks since the new law took effect, the Eisenhower Center has been gutted. 20 patients are no longer receiving treatment there. 30 staff have been laid off, too, and they won’t be the last.

“We’ll probably have to let go another 50,” Cornack said. “So that will be 80, and that’s if we can even stay open.”

The new law has also led some to be separated from their family, like Phil Kruger.

About 30 years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury following a car crash during his senior year of high school. He’s lived at Eisenhower Center since the 1990s until two months ago.

Unable to afford continuing to care for him, Eisenhower sent Krueger to their facility in Florida where rates haven’t been slashed.

The alternative, Cornack said, was an assisted living facility where Kruger would be dramatically younger than the typical patient and require more services.

“I think the lawmakers had no idea the ramifications that this law was going to have,” said Phil’s mother Beth.

Now in Florida, Krueger is still receiving the same treatment today, but his family that grew accustomed to visiting him anytime they wanted to is now more than a thousand miles away.

“I try to talk to him at least once a week. And after I talk to him and hang up,” Beth said through tears, “it’s really hard.”

Cornack, meanwhile, is unsure if he can afford to continue operating the Florida center He’s taken a 40% pay cut and is looking for further reductions to avoid closing down.

Today, Lansing lawmakers are trying to find a way to restore some or all of the cuts now being endured by the catastrophically injured.

“We traded a system where we had high costs and the absolutely best coverage maybe in the world,” said State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), “and we traded that in for a system where we still have high costs and now we have a system that is not the best and is leaving people behind. “

Irwin voted against the auto reform bills two years ago, in part because of what’s unfolding today.

“We’ve promised them a certain level of care. They’ve paid for a certain level of care, and now because of these auto no-fault reforms, that care is being taken away from them,” he said.

7 Action News requested an interview with Erin McDonough, the executive director of the Insurance Alliance of Michigan, to discuss the recent cuts in treatment to catastrophic crash victims and ongoing efforts to restore them.

A spokesman said she was not available, but McDonough released a statement encouraging those seeing treatment scaled back or eliminated to contact their insurer and, if necessary, state regulators.

“We strongly encourage anyone who believes they are not receiving medically necessary care to contact the Department of Insurance and Financial Services and file a complaint,” McDonough said in part.

As families like Dillon Bond’s see their benefits cut, Governor Whitmer announced an about face recently, saying she’d support changes to the law that would protect those losing services.

Senate Bill 314 is among several that would help restore the cuts being made to providers, but it doesn’t have a chance of moving forward without Republican support.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) said recently he wants to see auto reform “play out” before making any changes, according to MIRS News.

His office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

For Dillon Bond, what’s playing out today seemed unfathomable only a few weeks ago.

The day we talked to his mother, she learned that the in-home caretakers that have kept her son alive for six years won’t be showing up after this month.

His round-the-clock treatment will fall to her in about two weeks.

“I feel like this whole thing is just a death sentence for thousands of people. There’s no regard for human life,” she said.

“Senator Shirkey said, let’s just wait and see what happens. Well, do you see now what’s going to happen?"

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.