Gov, CFO make last minute pitch to save PIP reform bill

Mar 8, 2012

One of the biggest disputes of the 2012 Florida Legislative Session has involved the Personal Injury Protection, or “PIP” reform issue.  The House and Senate bills addressing that issue are still far apart.  And as the session winds down, Tom Flanigan reports supporters of the House bill, including Governor Rick Scott, are ramping up the pressure….

With just a single day left in the regular session, Governor Rick Scott called reporters into his office to meet with him, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty:

“One of the things that all three of us are focused on – very focused on – is that we have a meaningful PIP bill passed.”

“PIP” stands for Personal Injury Protection.  It’s part of Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system.  When someone is hurt in a traffic accident, PIP provides up to $10,000 for medical treatment.  But, since Florida adopted PIP coverage way back in 1971, CFO Atwater says con-artists have found ways to abuse what he says was supposed to be emergency-only relief.

“They certainly historically were not designed to provide the types of treatments of hot packs, cold packs, massages, etc.  There are certain access we couldn’t get if I was injured in my home on my broader health care policy that somehow people believe should fit into these policies.”

And that’s not the biggest problem.  Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty says it’s the exploding incidence of staged car wrecks and other fraud that’s made PIP in its present form unsustainable.

“And you think about the statistics, it’s like two-percent of the premium in the state is PIP.  It’s fifty-percent of the (unclear).  Thirty-five percent of the prosecutions are PIP prosecutions.  And as the governor said, it started as a South Florida problem.  But it’s not.  It’s growing across the state.  As soon as we put pressure on one place and you arrest people, they’re going to move somewhere else.  These are organized rings of fraudsters and hucksters and we need to put them out of business.”

But the billion-dollar question is, how best to do that?  The much-amended PIP reform bill passed by the Senate this week still looks much different from the one that passed the House. The Senate version allows people in car wrecks up to fourteen days to seek initial treatment; the House allows seven days. Chiropractors can’t provide PIP treatment under the House version.  They can in the Senate’s.   The House version also caps attorney fees.  Something Governor Scott says is critical to reducing fraud.

“If you look at your two options and you say, ‘Which one is going to have the positive impact on reducing the cost of insurance, which one is going to have the positive impact on reducing the fraud – stop the growth – I mean it’s clear that the House has a bill that’s going to make more sense.”

That sentiment isn’t shared by groups like “Floridians for Fair Insurance” and the “Florida Consumer Action Network.”  They quickly issued statements in support of the Senate bill.  And Joseph Brown, a lawyer with the Farah and Farah law firm, also thinks the Senate has the better idea:

“A lot of these folks don’t have expensive health care coverage and PIP provides the only coverage they have to pay for the cost of their treatment.  For a lot of folks, pain doesn’t arise from a motor vehicle accident in many times until several weeks after the collision.  If these proposed changes in the House bill became law, these accident victims would be pretty much out of luck.”

Which, if either of the two PIP reform bills will prevail won’t be known until the final day of Session.  That’s when House Speaker Dean Cannon says his chamber will take up the issue.  CFO Atwater is confident the matter can be worked out.

“I believe these legislators have the data in their laps, they see the facts, this is not anybody trying to pick a fight with anybody, It’s a fight for the consumers of Florida.  And, Governor, I believe in the next 24-hours these legislators are going to go to bat for the people of Florida and throw them a lifeline and pull them out of the shark pool.”

But if the House/Senate dispute can’t be ironed out, either before Friday’s expected session adjournment or during a later special session, Governor Scott says he’s open to another possibility…

“What you want to do is do the right thing for citizens so if can fix PIP, that would be great.  But if you can’t, you know the citizens are going to want us to get rid of it.  So my expectation is we’re going to have something that’s going to fix and crack down on people doing the wrong things, but we’ll see what happens.”

And that final phrase could be a pretty accurate way to describe much of what has taken place during the 2012 Legislative Session.