Brain Injury Assoc. of Pa. Takes Issue with Helmet Law

August 23, 2005

The following is an op-ed or “Letters” statement from The Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania passed a law to allow motorcyclists to drive without wearing a helmet. But who pays the medical bills when a motorcyclist suffers a catastrophic brain injury, and how does this law affect our overall medical policy?

The fact is that when private insurance runs out, and that happens quickly in catastrophic brain injury hospitalization and rehabilitation, Medicaid picks up this bill. Why is Pennsylvania trying to avoid cutting skyrocketing Medicaid benefits? Part of the reason Medicaid benefits are skyrocketing is that millions of state Medicaid dollars will be used to pay the medical costs of motorcyclists who have suffered catastrophic brain injury when involved in motorcycle accidents while riding without a helmet. Our legislators must stop the injuries, the pain, and cost to the public and require motorcycle helmets for all riders.

Florida legalized riding a motorcycle without a helmet over 3 years ago. There is a lesson to be learned from Florida’s experience. According to the Miami Sun-Sentinel, a federal study has found motorcycle fatalities in Florida increased more than 81 percent, and the number of deaths for riders younger than 21 nearly tripled in the three years after state lawmakers repealed a law requiring riders to wear a helmet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study also found injuries have become more expensive to treat. The average hospital cost to treat a head injury was $45,602, more than four times the $10,000 insurance non-helmeted riders are required to carry. Preusser Research Group, a Connecticut research firm specializing in transportation and highway safety, conducted the study for the federal agency.

In the three years after the repeal, 61 percent of the 933 fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet. Of the 101 riders younger than 21 who were killed in those three years, 45 percent were not wearing a helmet. “The numbers are pretty compelling that Florida has paid a high price,” said Rae Tyson, a Florida spokesman quoted in the Sun-Sentinel. “There is enough here for any state contemplating a helmet repeal to realize there are serious consequences.” Florida and U.S. taxpayers are sharing a bill of more than $10 billion over three years so that some citizens in Florida can choose to ride without a motorcycle helmet.

We have some questions for our state legislature. Is there any legitimate reason why Pennsylvania does not require motorcycle helmet use? How much is this helmet law costing Pennsylvania? If helmet use were required by law and enforced, how many lives would be saved, and how many Medicaid dollars could be saved for the benefit of others? Is there any reason why Pennsylvania Medicaid dollars are being spent to subsidize reckless behavior?

The Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania, which is headquartered in Harrisburg, is a 501(c)(3) membership organization and is largely staffed through volunteers. There are 245,000 Pennsylvanians living with brain injury, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Every year in Pennsylvania, there are an estimated 2,033 fatalities due to traumatic brain injury.

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