New Law Puts NHL Great Konstantinov’s 24/7 Care in Jeopardy | Health News

By LARRY LAGE, AP sportswriter

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (AP) – Vladimir Konstantinov traded hockey sticks for a Uno deck. Actually many. The one-time star of the Soviets and Detroit Red Wings plays so often that he plays through a pack each week, wearing down cards with the hands that once made him one of the world’s best defenders.

On a recent visit to the Konstantinovs’ condo in suburban Detroit, he easily defeated his longtime nurse Pam Demanuel and smiled. That’s about the best there is for him these days.

Since suffering severe brain damage when his drunk limousine driver fell while Konstantinov was celebrating the Red Wings’ first consecutive championship in the late 1990s, the former NHL great and Red Army team captain has had to rebuild his life. Now at 55, he needs help walking, eating, drinking and brushing his teeth, and a caregiver is staying awake while he sleeps in case he needs to go to the bathroom. Although he seems to understand questions, his answers are limited to a few words and are not always easy to understand.

Next week Konstantinov is at risk of losing the round-the-clock care that has allowed him to stay at home. Due to the high cost of such care and changes to a Michigan law, he could be moved to a facility where restraints or medication would be needed to protect him.

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Konstantinov is the public face of a predicament affecting approximately 18,000 Michigan residents who have sustained serious traffic-related injuries and lost federally funded, unlimited lifetime medical coverage that formerly every driver was required by law to pay for. A bipartisan change in law that helped Michigan have the highest auto insurance rates in the country went into effect last summer, leaving Konstantinov and the thousands others who relied on it with worse options.

Faced with the specter of losing his 24/7 care, Konstantinov’s family has sought help from the legislature and the public, started a GoFundMe to help offset their significant expenses and gave reporters a behind-the-scenes look at their lives.

“This is the first time we’ve let people in to see how he fights every day,” his wife Irina Konstantinov told The Associated Press earlier this month. “Fans see him at a Red Wings game waving at people and think he must be great, but he’s not.”

Konstantinov was 30 years old and had a championship season in which he was ranked runner-up as the NHL’s best defenseman when his limo driver had an accident on June 13, 1997 that ended his career and changed his life forever. His friend and teammate Slava Fetisov, another member of the Red Wings’ vaunted Russian Five, was also in the limousine but suffered no career-threatening injuries.

Konstantinov’s wife and daughter Anastasia tried to care for him after he woke up from a two-month coma, but they quickly found that they constantly needed professional help. After years of around-the-clock professional care, therapy, and a lot of determination, Konstantinov was able to walk and talk again.

To lower Michigan’s highest auto insurance policies, the Republican-led legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer passed legislation in 2019 that went into effect last July, allowing drivers to choose their personal injury protection and opt-out of the prior requirement that they purchase unlimited lifetime coverage. Among other things, the new law also reduced the reimbursements from the state fund for healthcare providers who treat accident victims.

Although the law lowered Michigan auto insurance premiums to some extent and caused the state to reimburse $400 per vehicle during an election year, Konstantinov and others like him faced the prospect of losing ongoing care, that they need. Reimbursements for certain post-acute services under the new law have been reduced to 55% of 2019 levels, which home care services say is financially unsustainable.

“In Vlad’s case alone, we bear about $200,000 in losses,” said Theresa Ruedisueli, regional director of operations at Arcadia Home Care & Staffing, which provides Konstantinov’s home care.

If the company cannot take care of Konstantinov without losing more money, it plans to fire him as a customer on June 1.

Anastasia Konstantinov started GoFundMe three years ago to help pay for her father’s care, but it has raised less than 10% of its $250,000 goal. The Red Wings and the NHL Players’ Association are also exploring ways to maintain Konstantinov’s home care.

“We are actively working with him and his team and plan to organize a fundraiser to maintain his care and provide more resources for future expansion,” the Red Wings said in a statement.

According to spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon, the NHLPA has been in contact with the family and is working to determine how the matter should be addressed.

Few of the others affected by the law change are as well known in Michigan as Konstantinov, and many are also struggling to raise the money to maintain their 24-hour home care.

Some lawmakers have said they never intended the revisions to apply retrospectively to accidents that occurred before the new law was signed into law. But their efforts to change it have stalled.

“I don’t think it was the intention of the legislature for home health caregivers to make that kind of cut,” said Republican state Rep. Phil Green, who sponsored a bill that would increase reimbursements for rehabilitation treatments and home-based care. “The statement made was, ‘All sides, both the health side and the insurance side, need a haircut.’ The reality is that for both home health care and rehabilitation facilities, this has been more of a scalping than a haircut.”

But Michigan House Republican Speaker Jason Wentworth, who supported the current law, said in March efforts to change the law during this year’s session were dead, noting the savings it has brought to drivers . He declined an interview request from the AP.

As for Konstantinov, who has been meeting with lawmakers in the Capitol, he seems keenly aware that his quality of life is at risk.

“I like living here,” he said during the AP’s visit to his home.

“My house,” he replied.

Associated Press reporters David Eggert in Lansing and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed.

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