PIP reform clears major hurdle

Feb 24, 2012

Two of the more controversial issues facing this year’s Florida Legislative Session wound up on the agenda of the House Economic Affairs Committee Friday.  As Tom Flanigan reports, the committee sent the bills covering both matters to the house floor after much debate.

Issue Number One involved proposed changes to the present Florida workers’ compensation set up.   For weeks, the state’s leading business organizations, doctors’ groups and other interests have been tussling over the issue.  Caught more or less in the middle has been the reform bill’s House sponsor, Republican Representative Matt Hudson of Naples.

“The bill you have before you is a significant compromise between the business community, the workers’ comp carriers and the Florida Medical Association to insure that physicians are properly re-imbursed under the fee schedule provided in Florida law.”

The big sticking point in the matter had been what worker’s compensation doctors charge for medicine they dispense directly to patients.  Those charges, critics said could be many times what the same drugs would cost at the corner Walgreen’s or CVS.  Hudson’s bill rolls back the prices doctors can charge for those in-office medications, but still allow the doctors to dispense them if they wish.  This will mean some big savings for the business community to the tune of some sixty-two million dollars.  Monty Stevens with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation told committee members workers’ comp insurance rates would go down by two-and-a-half percent.

“We’re not only going to encourage it; we’re going to order it.”

Hudson’s worker’s comp reform bill is now headed for the house floor.  Another much contested matter coming before the committee involved some changes to Florida’s personal injury protection or “PIP” insurance.  That covers up to ten thousand dollars in medical fees after an auto accident.  Bradenton Republican Representative Jim Boyd told the committee his bill to rein in what’s been called a “flood of fraud” is a bit different now than it was a few weeks ago…

“And I think we’ve made some major improvements to this bill after that ability to hear what’s important to members and to stakeholders in this.”

Among those changes; medical providers would no longer have to testify under oath if the insurer suspected fraud.  Also, accident victims would have the option of going to their own doctor instead of only a hospital emergency room.   Not every stakeholder thought those changes went far enough.  The Florida Justice Association’s Paul Jess told members the state’s trial lawyers still had problems with the bill…

“Unfortunately the bill you have in front of you is not an anti-fraud bill; it’s an insurance company wish list.”
Later, Kyle Ulrich of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents told committee members Jess was pretty much on target.

“We believe very strongly that Representative Boyd’s bill does all of the things that need to be done to address the problems that exist in the current PIP/No Fault system and we urge your support.”

That support soon came in the form of a positive vote and Hudson’s PIP reform bill was off to the house floor.