Time may be running out on PIP overhaul in Florida

Posted by on Feb 29, 2012 | 0 comments

By John Kennedy

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — Although a House committee advanced its version of a bill to revamp personal injury protection auto insurance Friday, the House and Senate remain far apart and there may not be enough time left in the session to pass this priority of Gov. Rick Scott.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to bring the House and Senate positions together before the end of session,” House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said. “But I’m not contemplating a special session on the issue.”

With two weeks left in the 2012 session, the holdup in the effort to reduce costs in the mandatory no-fault insurance known as PIP appears to be the same squabbles among the insurance, health care and legal industries that have killed previous efforts over much of the past decade.

The House proposal (HB 119), passed by the House Economic Affairs Committee Friday, would scrap the state’s PIP law, replacing it with a proposed emergency care insurance that keeps the $10,000 medical coverage, but would require all accident victims to be treated in emergency rooms or by their personal physicians – not independent clinics – within 72 hours.

It also would exclude chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists from coverage, a restriction that representatives of those industries say will hurt patients by denying less-expensive, yet effective treatment outside of an ER. They also argue the 72-hour time frame does not take into account that many injuries don’t become apparent until later.

“This bill removes the number one choice for consumers seeking drugless care We are the primary people for dealing with soft tissue injuries, said Chip Smith, a Winter Haven chiropractor.

But business groups applauded the House version, which goes further than the Senate plan to restrict physician access and attorney fees. The Senate plan (SB 1860) has neither attorney caps nor medical access restrictions.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes parts of northern Palm Beach County, would instead implement medical fee schedules, license medical clinics that provide PIP benefits and require insurers to promptly pay claims.

Negron says his approach, which on the Senate Budget Committee’s agenda Tuesday, is closest to that pitched by Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who are pushing hard to rid the system of fraudulent claims and clinics they say operate only to draw on the $10,000 insurance coverage every Florida motorist is supposed to carry.

But the House bill, sponsored by Rep. John Boyd, R-Bradenton, has garnered the support of the Office of Insurance Regulation and business leaders.

“Rep. Boyd’s bill goes after the three main drivers of PIP fraud: staged accidents, fraudulent claims, and attorney fees,” said David Hart vice president of government affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Frankly, it is the honest drivers of Florida, those of us in this room and across the state, and honest businesses that are paying for this billion dollar in fraud.”

The version of Boyd’s bill that passed the Economic Affairs Committee Friday had been significantly rewritten.

The original version prohibited patients from seeking medical attention from private physicians, a restriction opposed by the Florida Medical Association.

Under the new version, patients could go to the physician of their choice for up to $1,500 in treatment, as long as they begin treatment within 72 hours. Patients needing more intensive treatment would still be required to go to an emergency room or hospital-run clinic to collect benefits up to the $10,000 PIP cap.

Boyd also dropped a provision that would have required physicians to agree to examinations under oath. Patients would still be required to be deposed under oath if they want to continue receive benefits, and the bill would still cap attorney fees.

Backers said the bill, which now heads to the House floor and could be taken up as early as next week, would help rein in fraud that is costing policyholders $1 billion a year in higher premiums.

“This is a bold measure, members,” Boyd said. “I realize it tapers down who you can go to in terms of an accident, but it gets you treatment if you are really hurt.”

But consumer and attorneys groups said the bill’s provisions, including capping attorney fees, will do little to prevent staged crashes and prevent fraud.

“The Florida Justice Association would support a strong anti-fraud bill; we wish you had one in front of you today,” said FJA representative Paul Jess. “What you have in front of you is an insurance company wish list.” Alice Vickers, attorney for the Florida Consumer Action Network, said, “This bill does not go far enough to protect consumer or stamp out the fraud.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story

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