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CFO Atwater wants to crack down on attorney referral services

By Regan McCarthy


Tallahassee, FL – Florida is one of the top states in the country for Personal Injury Protection or PIP auto insurance fraud. Tampa comes in behind New York as the city with the most false claims filed. Regan McCarthy reports the legislature's attempt to fix the problem has lawmakers and the citizenry pointing fingers at everyone from healthcare providers to insurance companies to lawyer referral services.

Everyone in Florida has heard the advertisement of an attorney referral service, like 4-1-1 pain, with the tag "after 9-1-1 call 4-1-1" and it's a service that's catching some of the blame for the state's high fraud rate and spiking PIP insurance costs. Governor Rick Scott heard about the service more than once while hosting roundtable discussions about PIP across the state including during this discussion in Miami.

"You have an 800 number you call and as soon as you call the police and as soon as the police say the other person is responsible you call this number."

Some say it's an issue of entitlement saying that when people get in an accident they start to think they're entitled to money. Chief financial officer Jeff Atwater says the problem is that Floridians are swimming in a "pool of piranhas".

"And we're going to throw them a life line today. Fraud clinics, these lawyer referral huckster services and organized crime. They deserve relief and we're going to give it to them. They're going to be able to go throughout their day, own a car or two in their driveway and not be burdened by this. So as the governor outlined for us. It's really clear. When you're in a legitimate car accident you go to somebody who can give you legitimate care."

Atwater says he'd like to see referral services banned. And lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are looking into other methods of cutting out fraud.

Representative Jim Boyd, a Republican from Bradenton says one way people are cheating the system is by claiming injuries from an accident they weren't actually in. Boyd says the simple way to stop that is by requiring police to write down the names of everyone in the car.

"When an officer takes an accident report he lists all of the people in the car, not just the driver. The short form lists the driver, but if you list everybody in the car that kind of precludes the opportunity at a later date, today or tomorrow of quote un-quote jump-ins or people that say, well I was in that accident. I'm entitled to benefits as well.'"

Boyd's draft bill also attempts to address forms of fraud involving what are called "PIP clinics" which bill insurance companies for care that was never administered. Others, like Representative Bill Hager, say it might be time to just throw out the law requiring drivers to carry the insurance that covers up to 10-thousand dollars in medical bills or lost wages following an accident

"There's a number of states that operate, do fine without PIP and haven't' we reached the point where we say this sucker is such a rotting carcass we need to throw it out."

And Hager's not alone. Other suggestions to kill the fraud that's reportedly costing drivers almost a billion dollars in increased insurance prices are to let people with their own health insurance opt out or to stop funding massage therapy claims. PIP is expected to dominate discussions in both the House and Senate for much of the coming session.