A recent change to Ontario’s motor vehicle insurance has left one man and his family on the verge of bankruptcy after a tragic motorcycle accident in Hamilton, Ontario. These changes, brought about this past summer, significantly decrease the amount of financial support one can receive from a catastrophic vehicle injury. The Hamilton incident raises questions about whether we could be providing compensation for Ontarians in a better way. Access to adequate financial support after an accident determines what recovery will look like in the short and long term. Those who secure adequate compensation are more likely to return to health faster. A report by Wellesley Institute looks at a variety of accident compensation models and recommends a holistic model of compensation that provides financial and medical coverage regardless of how or where an injury occurred, and that lasts until recovery or for life. This way of providing coverage is fairer and equitable. Even though we have a public health care system in Canada, it remains incomplete. Many of the secondary services like physiotherapy, home care, prescription drugs, and post-traumatic stress therapy, are not covered by our current system. They come at a high personal cost. Equitable accident compensation would ensure that those injured in a vehicle, or any other way, would be supported in their return to health.
Sustaining an injury in Ontario has become a predictor of poverty. The Injured Workers of Ontario indicate that 1 in 5 workers are living in extreme poverty after injury, in fact on less than $10,000 per year, and that just over 40 percent have reported an income of less than $15,000 annually. An investigation into Ontario’s public programs reveals a substantial lack of financial and social supports when it comes to accidents. If you sustain injuries in an accident there are four possible compensation routes: Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Employment Insurance, Ontario Disability Support Program, or private insurance like auto insurance, none of which adequately support a meaningful return to health. But the inequity lies in who is compensated. Because within these programs, it is possible for those injured in different ways to be compensated differently. For instance, someone injured in a work-related vehicle accident may receive compensation, while someone injured in a non-work-related vehicle accident may not. This patchwork of compensation forces many to live without adequate income to support their best possible recovery.
It is time for a conversation on accident compensation and health equity in Ontario.
Accidents are common, unpredictable and can happen to anyone, anywhere and therefore provide an important opportunity for governments to demonstrate how they care for their residents. In examining Ontario’s programs, we know that there is a large gap between those who are eligible for compensation and those who receive a living wage after. Income support is a crucial part of health equity, as it allows individuals to maintain a real recovery without financial stressors.
The cost of accidents is high; in 2010 alone, the cost was $8.8 billion to the Ontario economy. A recent report by the Wellesley Institute highlights comparable jurisdictions that have developed affordable accident compensation schemes. A comprehensive accident compensation program should consider: income replacement, prescription medication, medical treatment, travel to medical treatment and other services such as chiropractic, physiotherapy, therapy and rehabilitation and should last either until complete recovery or for life, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration. In New Zealand, they have developed such a scheme, through the Accident Compensation Corporation, which compensates for accidents, regardless of how or where the injury occurred. New Zealand’s model provides a low-cost alternative and gives the government an opportunity to produce changes that promote health equity and ensure those who are injured receive adequate support. If New Zealand, with a lower income per capita, can do it, why can’t Ontario?
There is a simple answer: we can.
Ontario has seen this type of change before. In 2016, Liberal Government of Ontario proposed an Ontario Registered Pension Plan (ORPP) which would rely on the creation of a Crown Corporation to address the lack of financial security in retirement. Developing a Crown Corporation for accident compensation could pay for itself; through a mix of levies, taxes on motor vehicles and gas as well as through general taxation, the overall cost of running the corporation would be low.
Ontario’s current systems do not provide equitable compensation, and they demonstrate that support depends on where and how you are injured. The equitable approach to accident compensation is to have all injuries compensated in the same way, providing universal coverage. We can and should do better for Ontarians facing challenges due to an accident. Access to equitable accident compensation will ensure a better chance at health for all.