How much does traumatic brain injury really cost society?

Brain Injury Blog 

How much does traumatic brain injury really cost society?

by  Steven M. Gursten

DSC04187-BWhen someone sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI) the costs go far beyond medical bills.

I’ve been an attorney helping people injured in auto accidents for nearly 20 years, and sadly, I’ve seen the costs and the long-term consequences for people suffering from brain injury first-hand.Michiganis perhaps unique in that our no-fault insurance laws allow people with traumatic brain injury lifetime necessary medical care and treatment.

In many cases, that means people I’ve helped 10 and even 15 years ago, I still hear from and help on a regular basis. For many of my clients who have suffered very serious TBI, it is not unusual to start a no- fault lawsuit against his or her auto insurance company every couple of years, when the adjusters refuse to pay for necessary care.

Despite what some people – and it seems most insurance adjusters may think – TBI doesn’t go away when the accident victim is released from the hospital or when the lawsuit ends.  In fact —  as the public becomes more and more aware of the real consequences to many professional athletes and football players in particular who have suffered head injuries during their playing careers — very real and devastating consequences can lie in store, even for less immediately debilitating head injuries and concussions.

About 1.7 million people will sustain a brain injury each year in theU.S., according to the Brain Injury Association of America. Auto accidents are the second-leading cause of traumatic brain injury.

In addition, the Brain Injury Association of America states that direct medical costs and indirect costs of brain injury (such as lost of productivity) result in an estimated $76.3 billion each year.

Here are more figures on the cost of brain injury from the association:

  • Average hospital-based acute rehabilitation: $8,000 per day.
  • Range for post-acute residential rehabilitation: $850-$2,500 a day.
  • Day treatment programs (such as four hours of outpatient therapy): $600 to $1,000.

Every brain injury is different. The good news is that the majority of brain injury survivors do go on to make very good  recoveries.

But there’s still an estimated 15-20 percent of our population who do not go on to make good recoveries. For these people, the initial or acute phase of a brain injury is only the start of a lifelong process of dealing with the challenges ahead. Brain injury changes over time and has many symptoms that affect overall health, cognition and personality.

People with TBI must have access to the early  medical treatment and lots of support from friends, families, and employers where possible.

But as a lawyer helping people with TBI, it is the true societal cost that most people fail to truly comprehend.  When people with TBI are not properly diagnosed and therefore don’t receive the right medical care, it is the taxpayers and society that end up paying far more in the end.

Awareness of brain injury and access to comprehensive medical care and rehabilitation eases medical complications, permanent disability, job loss, homelessness, poverty, family dysfunction, suicide and even keeps people out of the criminal justice system.

“Access to early, comprehensive treatment for brain injury also alleviates the burden of long term care that’s  transferred to tax payers at the federal, state and local levels,” according to Dr. Brent Masel, National Medical Director for the Brain Injury Association of America.

In other words, if we treat brain injury survivors early with proper medical care, they are more likely to make better long-term recoveries. This benefits us all and saves money.

Steven M. Gursten is an experienced Michigan traumatic brain injury lawyer who serves on the executive board of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brian Injury Lawyer Litigation Group.  Steve is the current president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association.

September 14, 2012

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