The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (www.fsco.gov.on.ca) has now commenced a review of the “Catastrophic Definition”. The outcome of this review will have a dramatic impact on the victims who suffer severe disabilities in car crashes. For those deemed to be “catastrophic”, it can mean the ability to access essential services to live independently and with dignity. For those that are not, it can mean a life of limited help, despair and a stalled recovery. The stakes are very high!
The FSCO has now appointed an Expert Medical Panel to make recommendations regarding the definition and the assessment process. Careful attention will be made on people suffering traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, spinal cord injuries, severe mental and psychological disorders, and those suffering from multiple broken bones.
Many lawyers, doctors, rehabilitation professionals and treating providers are looking forward to the review. It is hoped that it will finally address the many holes that are within the system. Holes that have resulted in many seriously disabled victims being left out in the cold when it comes to basic care services and rehabilitation treatment. Treatment that will help them get better and integrated back into society and the workforce.
The last changes made by the Ontario Government to the insurance system was in September of 2010. These changes saw a drastic reduction in benefits to those suffering less severe injuries. The intent was to eliminate and drastically reduce benefits flowing to people suffering minor injuries. By cutting the flow, it would mean insurance companies would not have to raise auto insurance premiums to the driving public. It was also seen as a way of making sure greater benefits could flow to the more seriously disabled victims. As some would say, soft tissue injuries would have to take a back seat to the seriously injured.
Although the review process is to look at ways of making the present system better and more efficient, some fear that it will be used as a vehicle by the insurance industry to make it harder for people to be deemed “catastrophic”. This of course would mean people who otherwise would have up to two million in benefits available to meet their needs, would be reduced down to a bare bones package that is exhausted normally with one to two years. This of course cannot be the intent of the review. The review ought to ensure greater access is given to the seriously injured. Substantial savings have already been afforded to the insurance industry as cited in my previous blogs. To now go after the seriously injured and seek to reduce their benefits is just wrong.
Many are confident that the medical panel, FSCO and the Ministry will ensure these seriously injured persons are protected. An expansive approach with the definition must be done. A definition that recognizes all serious injuries. A definition that takes into consideration the collective impact of all injuries on the disabled. It should never be forgotten that there are no windfalls that happen when one is deemed “catastrophic.” Even if someone is found to suffer a catastrophic injury, they still must prove the need for benefits. It simply does not mean money falls on to their lap and they keep it. The money goes to rehabilitation, home modifications, mobility aids, and attendant care. The disabled person still must prove they need the services ( the wheelchair ramp, the wheel chair lift, the helper to get dressed etc.). If they don’t prove it, they don’t get it. If the definition is expanded, it simply means those who need it can access it beyond the temporal and monetary caps of $3,500 or $50,000 as set out in my previous blogs.
If the panel or FSCO or the Ministry seek to tighten up the definition, which would be contrary to the intent of the review, then many severely disabled individuals will be shut out from accessing the rehabilitation and medical help needed to live with dignity and independence. Of course further restriction would simply mean greater savings to the insurance industry. This time however, it will be on the backs of the severely disabled.