Last week the Ontario provincial government released its 2015 budget. Although it did not get a lot of attention, an entire section of the budget is dedicated to proposed changes to how injured victims are treated after a motor vehicle accident.
By and large, the news is not good.
The first proposal is to change the standard benefit level for medical and rehabilitation benefits to $65,000 (from $50,000) and to include attendant care services under this benefit limit. Although this looks like an increase, it is actually a decrease. Attendant care services of $36,000 are currently in place for the standard benefit package. What happened to that $21,000 of coverage? Gone!
The second proposal is to include attendant care services with the $1 million medical and rehabilitation benefit for catastrophic impairments. Again, catastrophically injured victims currently have access to $1 million for EACH of medical rehabilitation and attendant care benefits. The Premier was asked why Ontario was making this change. Her answer was that Ontario has very “generous” benefits. Generous is relative. If you are a young person with a severe spinal cord injury, you will very quickly learn that $1 million is not very much money. There was no reason provided to explain why the insurance companies require this change.
The third proposal is to reduce the standard duration of medical and rehabilitation benefits from 10 years to five years for all claimants except children. Given the long wait times for MRIs and some types of orthopedic surgeries, there will be some accident victims who will not get proper rehab after their accident because the benefits will expire before they have time to use them.
The fourth proposal is to eliminate the six-month waiting period for non-earner benefits and limit the duration of non-earner benefits to two years after the accident. In order to qualify for non-earner benefits, you have to be completely unable to live a normal life. Only the most injured people qualify for this benefit. Currently, there is a 6 month waiting period to qualify, but the benefits last until age 65 and then decrease in amount to age 70. This is a very significant cut that will hurt Ontario’s most vulnerable. The benefit is currently $185 per week.
There are other proposed changes that will negatively impact accident victims. For example, the $30,000 deductible on damages for pain and suffering is going to be indexed to inflation. That deductible applies to pain and suffering awards under $100,000. That $100,000 number is also going to be indexed to inflation. Indexing to inflation seems reasonable. However, where the dollar figures are to the benefit of accident victims, there is no proposal to index for inflation. For example, the income replacement benefit under the Statutory Accident Benefits has been $400 per week for more than a decade. The non-earner benefit is $185 per week. How about a little indexing there?
Overall, this budget is a kick in the teeth to people who have already been kicked in the teeth! And really, there is no explanation for why these changes are necessary or assist Ontarians. The government seems to want to be congratulated for lowering insurance premiums. However, it is no great feat to get a lower price for a lower quality insurance policy.
Ontarians will be getting less coverage for (maybe, it remains to be seen) lower premiums. If you want to maintain your level of coverage, you have to pay for upgrades, i.e. pay more for the same.
Why no uproar? Primarily because the people who will be negatively impacted by these changes do not know it yet. These are accidents waiting to happen.