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David Altmaier promises active role in workers’ compensation debate

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The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has no plans to draft its own legislative fix for rising workers’ compensation rates, but that doesn’t mean regulators are ignoring the problem, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said Wednesday.

“We expect to be actively involved in that conversation,” Altmaier told reporters as his office’s biannual industry conference wound down.

“We are going to have opinions on how potential legislation protects injured workers and how they access the workers’ comp market and things of that nature,” he said. “Just because we don’t have a specific bill that we’ll be running doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be playing a leading role in that conversation.”

Altmaier’s office is working on specific legislation targeting abuse of assignment of benefits agreements, blamed for driving up property insurance premiums. Read more about that here.

That problem has been percolating for years, Altmaier said. Workers’ compensation emerged suddenly this spring, when the Florida Supreme Court struck down limits on attorney fees in lawsuits against insurance companies and on temporary total disability benefits.

The result in September was approval by Altmaier’s office of a 14.5 percent boost in workers’ compensation insurance premiums, rolling out over 12 months beginning Dec. 1.

The court rulings have ignited a backlash from state leaders and within the business community, with industry groups looking for a way around them.

“We view our role as being a resource to these individuals — reviewing their ideas and being at the table, certainly,” Altmaier said.

As for assignment of benefits — or AOB — abuse, he sees his role as focusing the discussion, which in the past has produced competing legislation but no solution.

“My goal for AOB would be to run a bill that we could build consensus around and perhaps get to the legislative session and offer something people can support.”

Altmaier’s optimistic the office will succeed.

“The challenge will be making sure we go in surgically, and that we don’t dismantle the entire mechanism. We have to be very careful about that,” he said.

“There are certainly situations in which it is appropriate for a consumer to assign their benefits. I do think there are loopholes in the current mechanism that allow a small number of people to abuse the system, to the detriment of the entire marketplace and of consumers that are ultimately going to have to pay the bill for those rate increases.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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