PIP clears House

Mar 2, 2012

The Florida House has passed its version of a bill that supporters say will reduce auto insurance fraud.  Tom Flanigan reports opponents put up a fight during final debate on the measure, all the while acknowledging that passage was inevitable.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Jim Boyd of Bradenton, tried to put a light-hearted spin on what has been one of the session’s most contentious topics.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  Members, this is a simple glitch bill.”  (Members laugh)  “Seriously, this is the bill that’s aimed at getting at the billion-dollar problem we have with PIP fraud in Florida and that’s the bill, Mr. Speaker.”

PIP, short for personal injury protection, has been a mandatory part of Florida’s no-fault auto insurance law since 1971.  Those injured in traffic accidents can access up to ten-thousand dollars in medical benefits with a minimum of muss and fuss.  But that has attracted swarms of con artists in recent years who stage phony wrecks and feign injury to collect that money.  At the same hour the House began final debate on Boyd’s bill, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation released some numbers.  They showed the percentage of auto insurance premiums now devoted to PIP coverage surged nearly twenty percent between 2010 and 2011.  That gave more ammunition to supporters, like Republican Representative Ronald “Doc” Renuart of Ponte Vedra Beach, who’s also a practicing osteopath…

“Criminals are making a mockery of the emergency care protection system that we have for our Florida drivers.  It has to stop.”  

But one other thing the Boyd bill would stop would be attorney fees over a certain limit.  St. Petersburg Democrat Rick Kriseman asked Boyd what that would do if an accident victim wound up suing the insurance company for denying or delaying a legitimate claim?

“Am I required, because of the cap, to pay my attorney the difference between what is statutorily provided and what my attorney charges?”  

Boyd replied the answer was “yes”.  One recent change to the bill was extending the time limit for accident victims to seek medical attention from seventy-two hours to seven days.  But Kriseman worried even that might be too tight a deadline.

“What happens to that man who’s in the accident – and, guys, you know how much we all hate going to doctors – what happens when that guy tries to tough it out to avoid going to the doctor?  If he doesn’t do so within seven days, he’s out of luck.  None of his bills will be paid.”

And Boca Raton Democrat Steve Perman thought the whole bill a bad idea:

“Members, this bill is like fishing with dynamite.  You go after prey by dropping a stick of dynamite in the water.  You may kill a part of what you set out to, but there’s a lot of peripheral damage.”

Plus, there are more than a few differences between the house PIP bill and the senate’s.  The senate bill requires more detailed crash reports and more clinic oversight.  It gives payment priority to hospital-connected facilities, but doesn’t require accident victims receive most of their treatment there.  The senate bill also leaves attorney fees alone.  But Deland Representative Fred Costello thought those differences could be hammered out…

“I’m ready to support it.  I expect there will be more changes in conference.  I have people at home, chiropractors and other folks who are dear friends who are supporters.  Are they pleased with everything in the bill?  Of course not!”

Unhappy perhaps because chiropractors, along with massage therapists and acupuncturists, wouldn’t be approved treatment providers under the house bill.  But it went on to pass, eighty-five to thirty votes.  The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida quickly released statements applauding the vote.  Bill Newton who heads the Florida Consumer Action Network, wasn’t so enthusiastic…

“It’s not going to do anything to reduce the amount of organized crime or organized fraud rings that are in the state.  It’ll just make them change how they operate, if that.”

It appears the senate may either move on its version of the bill next week, or even take up the house bill.  Senate President Mike Haridopolos said that’s a possibility because he’d like to see the PIP matter settled this session.  That’s also a priority for Governor Rick Scott.