PIP fight not just between political parties

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Judging from debate in a House subcommittee on Wednesday, plans to make significant changes to Florida’s no-fault insurance law will face stiff headwinds as powerful, opposing interest groups flex their muscles and split the parties, report Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Following more than two hours of debate, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee passed a measure, HB 119, along largely party lines. The 10-5 vote belied the rift that exists within the parties over how to rein in cost associated with fraud and abuse that state insurance regulators say permeates the personal injury protection system.

Wednesday’s debate underscored the difficulty backers face in pulling together enough votes as competing interests launch well funded public relations campaigns to sway lawmakers in a battle worth billions of dollars.

Sensing the difficulty, Gov. Rick Scott took the offensive Wednesday by rallying a group of consumers and PIP reform backers, telling them to knock on doors and convince individual lawmakers to get past the entrenched lobbying and find a middle ground that would lead to lower rates.

“This is something important so I don’t want to leave it to chance,” Scott told reporters following a rally at the Capitol. “I want to make sure everyone stays active and make sure that their voices are heard.”

Among the most contentious issues is a provision that caps attorney fees, another that would require physicians to be questioned under oath and another that would require PIP patients to obtain their initial medical treatment at emergency rooms within 72 hours.

The attorney fee cap has raised the ire of the trial lawyer group the Florida Justice Association, which says such caps will discourage lawyers from taking on cases against insurance companies, whose attorneys are not subject to the same caps.

“PIP trials are expensive,” said Todd Copeland, speaking on behalf of the trial lawyer group. “What this bill does is eliminates attorneys from protecting these doctors.”

Meanwhile, a requirement that physicians subject themselves to examinations under oath, – or EUOs – has raised concerns among physicians groups that say requiring doctors to provide sworn testimony would lead to punitive and harassing behavior by insurers that use the threat of long depositions to pressure physicians into settling for lower payments.

“There is nothing about EUOs that is being used as an investigating tool,” said Chad Barr, an attorney from Orlando who represents medical providers in PIP cases. “It is being used as a tool of intimidation.”

Insurers say physicians that benefit financially from PIP should have no problem with testifying under oath.

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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.