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What Are the Long-Term Costs of a Spinal Injury?

A spinal cord injury, or a SCI, is a terrible experience. In the immediate, there are concerns about mobility, loss of function, and basic survival. In the long term, there are worries about quality of life and overall health.

The SCI survivor and their loved ones are so focused on the wellbeing of the survivor, they are likely putting no thought into their finances. But they should. Saving and maintaining the life of a SCI survivor is expensive – very expensive. The act of preserving and supporting the quality of life for a SCI survivor costs thousands upon thousands of dollars, and the expenses come in surprising forms.

Medical Costs

The cost associated with SCIs is astronomical. Although there are clear variations related to employment, insurance plans, education, etc., the 2015 figures released by the SCIMS (Spinal Cord Injury Model System) read as follows:

  • High Tetraplegia – $1,064,716 for the first year, $184,891 for each year thereafter
  • Low Tetraplegia – $769,351 for the first year, $113,423 for each year thereafter
  • Paraplegia – $518,904 for the first year, $68,739 for each year thereafter
  • Loss of Motor Functional at Any Level – $347,484 for the first year, $42,206 for each year thereafter

Take a moment to reflect on those numbers. The first year of any loss of motor function costs more money than what the vast majority of Americans makes in a year.

Why Is the Cost so High?

Why would a SCI, in particular, be hugely expensive? In short, there are more treatments to consider. First, we can assume that the injured party will go through surgery, likely several surgeries. In a serious accident resulting in unconsciousness, there are many other possibilities to consider, such as trauma care, a ventilator, coma treatment, etc.

Rehabilitation costs are factored in. It takes time and training for someone to learn how to operate with what is, essentially, a completely new body. A SCI often requires long-term care or the use of in-home medical workers.

There is a battery of medicines to take, and there is new equipment to buy. Wheelchairs aren’t cheap, and depending on the severity of the injury, the type of chair can cost a fortune. Someone with a higher degree of upper-body mobility is going to spend far less money on their chair than a person who is completely paralyzed.

All of these costs are considered for just that first year.

Employment

Medical expenses aren’t the only costs to consider. The injury comes with indirect costs – loss of income, productivity, etc. The SCIM estimates that in 2014, the average indirect cost for a person who injured their spine was $72,000 per year.

An injury to the spinal cord changes someone’s life immeasurably. No one could reasonably expect someone to go back to work right after an episode like that. In fact, it’s unfair to assume that going back to work is an option at all. Only 11.7% of SCI sufferers are employed the first year after their injury, and that figure climbs to only 35.2% after 20 years. 

To put it into perspective, consider this example: Wayne, a former high school athlete, was hurt in a drunk driving accident in his early 20s. Paralyzed, he lost the use of his legs and has limited mobility in his arms. He was always a driven man, so he went back to school and earned a doctorate degree. He’s now finally independent and has entered the work force as a teacher. Wayne’s story is triumphant, but it took 15 years. With his health problems and his need for assistance, Wayne stopped and started his doctoral studies several times.

Direct loss of employment or difficulty in gaining employment doesn’t even take earning potential into account. SCI survivors who are gainfully employed may have difficulty advancing in their careers. Promotions and lateral moves are often similar to getting a whole new job. If someone moves locations in the office, their accommodating equipment moves with them. A new position is a new responsibility with a whole new set of physical challenges.

Indirect Expenses

It’s easy to look at stats and figures to see how much this procedure or that medicine costs an SCI patient. What is less discussed are the living expenses surrounding a spinal injury. If someone’s house is right up the road from the hospital, extra cost isn’t a big deal. That, unfortunately, is not normally the case.

Close family members are likely to want to be by the patient’s side. Now the discussion of cost extends to them. Flights, gas, and hotel rooms are going to drain money. The hospital itself, aside from the usual medical expenses, is costly. Snacks, cafeterias, parking, etc., these expenses start to add up.

People don’t often consider entertainment a medical expense, but it can be. Sitting in a hospital bed all day – or sitting by the bed of a loved one – gets boring. These people are going to need to keep their brains busy, and daytime TV is not likely the answer. Books, puzzles, video games, DVDs and Blu-Rays – these are items people are likely to purchase to maintain their sanity during long hospital stays.

Living Modifications

Now that a person with limited mobility is coming back home, it’s time to update that home. Serious renovations and modifications are costly, and these expenses aren’t always going to be covered by insurance. Entrances need to be made accessible. It may take some time, money, and effort to move the family around from room to room to accommodate everyone. Furniture needs to be replaced with disabled-accessible items. Showers need to be altered. Bathroom rails need to be installed with possibly a whole different toilet. The entire bathroom, along with the plumbing, may need to be remodeled with drainage vents on the floor.

Appliances need to be replaced or altered – refrigerator doors, can openers, bottle openers – there is a whole kitchen full of new items to buy.

What about freedom, space, and independence? Even someone requiring a higher level of care needs some room. How much will it cost to give the disabled adult in the home their own space while still providing the help they need?

Vehicle Modifications

Even those with higher degrees of mobility may need to alter their cars. Acceleration and breaking systems need to be updated and moved up to arm’s reach. For those who can’t drive, options become more complicated and more expensive. The compact car needs to be sold in favor of a van with a wheelchair lift. If the family has a suitable van, the lift will need to be installed.

Everything breaks down eventually. New systems need to be installed. New straps are needed for stabilizing the wheelchair into the car. And eventually, someone will have to buy an entirely new, disabled-friendly car.

In-Home Care

People who have had life-altering injuries need help. Our system is not set up to care for the infirmed without a high cost to them. Insurance companies will get people only so far. Even then, these companies are so protective of their bottom line that it can be a fight to get what is needed and deserved.

Comorbidity

“Comorbidity” refers to one ailment that either causes or occurs in conjunction with another ailment. For example, a diabetic with poor health can develop heart problems. Although the heart problem is a completely different ailment that requires its own treatment, it developed because of the diabetes.

Comorbidity is a big problem with SCI survivors. Mental health disorders – depression, trauma, etc. – are common among survivors. Adjacent health problems arise from a lack of ability to exercise and move the body. These new, concurrent health issues carry their own financial price.

Sometimes, as unpleasant as it may be, it becomes necessary to sue for medical expenses and damages. An injured person needs to seek the council of a good lawyer who will fight for fair compensation to sustain their quality of life.

If you have been injured in an accident, we can help. Consultations cost nothing and are risk-free, so call today at 850-764-0383 or contact us online.

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