Push to revise PIP begins

Jan 25, 2012

The debate on how to reduce personal injury protection insurance fraud was raging again in the Florida Legislature Wednesday.  Tom Flanigan reports those supporting the House’s solution held a noon pep rally in the Capitol Rotunda.  Meanwhile, consumer advocates are favoring the Senate’s less sweeping approach to the problem.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting room was filled to overflowing.  Dozens of people, many of them lawyers and health care providers, speaking against the bill to reform the state’s personal injury protection law.
 
“I’ve heard a couple or three times this morning that you don’t need a lawyer in PIP cases.  That has not been my experience.”

“This bill is trying to eliminate fraud and this provision of the bill does not further that agenda whatsoever, it actually hinders that agenda.”

The bill from Republican Representative Jim Boyd of Hillsborough County, limits vehicle accident injury treatment to hospital emergency rooms, or other facilities operated by hospitals.  Injuries that emerge days after the accident would no longer be covered.  And fees for lawyers taking up personal injury cases would be capped.

“And what this does besides taking away their personal choice is to eliminate some of the most practical points of entry into the medial field; the primary care physicians or the non-hospital emergency care centers.”

“I think what you’re doing with this bill is reducing the benefits that consumers get, forcing us to go only to emergency rooms and then what happens to the cost?”

And that matter of how much money any change to the law might save was questioned by several speakers.

“If we don’t know what the product is, then it is virtually impossible, so we don’t know whether it’s going to reduce rates.”

After hours of public testimony on the bill, Representative Boyd agreed to make his measure a work-in-progress.

“I urge you to stand with me today as we lower insurance costs for our friends, our neighbors, our constituents and put money back in their pockets.  If you’ll vote yes on this good bill with me, I will work with you, we will make a better product before this passes through the House.”

Boyd’s measure passed the subcommittee.  That victory gave even more impetus to a rally a few hours later in a packed Capitol fourth floor rotunda.  Speakers included Florida Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Steve Casey.

“The Florida Sheriffs Association and the many members of law enforcement in this community who are here with us today and the ones who are unable to be here but are dealing with this issue back home, echo this call for help and the call for our leaders to act on this PIP situation.”

An average Florida driver had her say.

“Hi, my name is Cydnee Knoth and I’m a resident of Tampa, Florida and every year I see my insurance rates go up on my auto insurance.  And despite my excellent driving record, the rates go up every year.”

And there was a not-so-average Floridian at the lecturn.  In fact, the media event’s scheduled time was rolled back an hour-and-a-half so Governor Rick Scott could voice his support for PIP reform.

“Why would we be in a state that has the number of auto accidents going down and fraud going up?  Why would we want to be in a state that has the most number of staged accidents?  Why would we want that?  Why would we want to have this unbelievable amount of litigation that we deal with all the time?”

But the Florida House doesn’t have the only bill that proposes to address PIP fraud.  The Florida Senate has one of its own, sponsored by Republican Joe Negron of Palm City.  It focuses more on the enforcement side of the equation.  Things like requiring long-form incident reports as a way to thwart staged accidents.  It also would close licensing loopholes for health clinics and beef up accountability measures for every party involved in PIP claims.   That bill has the support of Bill Newton with the Florida Consumer Action Network.  Wednesday afternoon his organization sent out a statement urging state lawmakers to dump the House bill in favor of the Senate’s.  That showdown will take place only if both measures actually make it to the floors of their respective chambers and final votes there.