by Charlie LeDuff –
I can’t shake the image or the sadness of watching an old warhorse dying in a hospital bed, buried beneath medical machinery and plastic tubing. He begged the nurse to give him a shot. Something to put him down.
“How are you man?” I asked him.
“I’m on my way out.”
“Does it scare you?”
“Yeah,” he croaked. You could tell this anyhow by his wide wild eyes.
In this Christmas season of hope and renewal, I look back at the cold and ironic death of Brian Woodward, a quadriplegic man whose health care was snatched from him under the notorious Michigan auto insurance reform of 2019.
Woodward, 64, was guaranteed lifetime care under the old insurance law. After severing his spinal cord in a car accident in the 80’s, Brian managed to live a full and productive life. He earned a college degree, worked in the auto industry, and lived in his own home.
Brian, from his wheelchair, coached little league baseball, sang in the church choir, and was an avid hunter and fisherman. All with the help of caregivers who were paid from the catastrophic auto insurance fund.
But once Governor Whitmer signed law reducing wages to paid caregivers by 45 percent, Brian could not afford to make up the difference.
So, Brian bounced from nursing home to hospital bed to nursing home to hospital bed. He was moved more than two dozen times over the next two years. He suffered bedsores, sepsis, and heart arrhythmia. He was treated little better than a bag of soiled bed sheets. I watched him slowly die.
Last August, feeding from a morphine drip, Brian died.
Barely an hour later, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that what they had done to Brian and people like him was unconstitutional, if not immoral.
Brian in his last years, didn’t take it lying down. He advocated for the return of healthcare for the 18,000 catastrophically injured people like himself; the poster boy of a movement of social justice and dignity.
I felt ashamed of myself after meeting him. When Whitmer, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Republicans in Lansing crowed about all the money we’d save, I hardly looked into its specifics.
Michigan had the highest auto insurance rates in the country, and the politicians promised us better coverage for less money. I got buried in the avalanche of spin. I wasn’t curious enough to realize that thousands of vulnerable human beings would be thrown on the garbage pile.
It should have been easy to see. How else would insurance companies make money? For that, I am truly sorry. I promised Brian I’d do better. And to you dear reader, I doubled down on that promise.
In the end, the reforms saved us nothing. Michigan continues to have the highest insurance rates in the county, and they’ll go even higher now that the Supreme Court says the state must honor the promise to the catastrophically injured people.
Still the Executives got paid. Politicians got contributions. Brian got a funeral.
The pastor presiding over Brian’s memorial put it like this: Brian felt the sting of corruption of the rich and powerful, those who pray on the weak and vulnerable. But Brian never grew angry or bitter. He won’t reap the fruits of his labor, but others will, and he’d be okay with that.
It’s worth reminding each other that just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they are less than.
It’s worth reminding each other that the promises of carrots and sugar cubes made to them from modern day politicians rarely materialize. The promises of lower property taxes and insurance rates, soaring skyscrapers and manufacturing jobs is a Trojan horse of the monied-class.
When a political boss dangles a carrot over your snout, remember she’s wielding a club in the other hand.
Rest in peace, Brian. And Merry Christmas to you all.