House PIP bill heads to House floor, differs from Senate bill

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A plan aimed at reducing costs in no-fault automobile insurance passed a House panel Friday after it was substantially amended to accommodate some private physician concerns while holding the line on a cap of attorney fees, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Following more than an hour of testimony and debate, the House Economic Affairs Committee passed HB 119, a significant re-write of which was released late Thursday. The measure, backers say, is an attempt to rein in costs of personal injury protection insurance, a fraud-riddled system that is costing policyholders $1 billion a year in higher premiums.

Like the original House proposal, the new bill, would continue to require that “true emergencies” be treated at emergency rooms or hospital-run clinics within 72 hours of an accident, the House sponsor told the panel Friday.

But unlike previous versions, the bill does not prohibit patients from seeking medical attention from private physicians, an earlier restriction opposed by the Florida Medical Association.

Under the new version, patients could go to the physician of their choice for up to $1,500 in treatment, as long as they began treatment within 72 hours. Patients needing more intensive treatment would still be required to go to an emergency room to collect benefits up to the $10,000 PIP cap.

“This is a bold measure, members,” said sponsor Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. “I realize it tapers down who you can go to in terms of an accident but it gets you treatment if you are really hurt.”

But with two weeks left in the 2012 session, the House and Senate remain far apart, – and even though it is a priority for Gov. Rick Scott, there may not be enough time to pass the bill.

“I don’t know whether they’ll be able to bring the House and Senate positions together before the end of session,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon. “But I’m not contemplating any special session on that issue at this time.

Business groups applauded the House version, which goes further than the Senate plan to restrict physician access and attorney fees. The Senate plan, SB 1860, has neither attorney caps nor access restrictions. The bill has also garnered the support of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

“Rep. Boyd’s bill goes after the three main drivers of PIP fraud: staged accidents, fraudulent claims, and attorney fees,” said David Hart vice president of government affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Frankly, it is the honest drivers of Florida, those of us in this room and across the state, and honest businesses that are paying for this billion dollar in fraud.”

Critics of the measure say the House version goes too far by excluding chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists from coverage, an omission representatives of those industries say will hurt patients by denying less-expensive, yet effective treatment outside of an ER. They also argue the 72 hour time frame does not take into account that many injuries don’t become apparent until later.

“This bill removes the number one chose for consumers seeking drugless care,” said Chip Smith, a Winter Haven chiropractor: ” …We are the primary people for dealing with soft tissue injuries.”

Consumer and attorneys groups were not enamored with the proposal, which now heads to the House floor and could be taken up as early as next week. They argue that capping attorney fees will do little to prevent staged crashes and prevent fraud.

“The Florida Justice Association would support a strong anti-fraud bill, we wish you had one in front of you today,” said FJA representative Paul Jess. “What you have in front of you is an insurance company wish list.”

“This bill does not go far enough to protect consumer or stamp out the fraud,” said Alice Vickers, counsel for the Florida Consumer Action Network.

Among the changes introduced Thursday, the sponsor struck a provision that would require physicians to agree to examinations under oath. Patients would still be required to be deposed under oath if they want to continue receive benefits.

“The amendment today begins to address our concerns and we look forward to working with Rep Boyd to continue working towards a final product,” said Rebecca O’Hara, FMA’s vice president for government affairs.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.