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@ontario.ca. As well, consumers can sign an online
petition at www.feelinglucky.ca.

For further information:

For further information: Rachel Sa, PR POST, office (416) 777-0368, cell
(416) 454-7713

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