PIP reform passed just under the wire

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A last-ditch effort to salvage legislation aimed at reducing costs in the state’s no-fault automobile insurance system succeeded Friday night as lawmakers reached a deal and sent the bill to Gov. Rick Scott, who had made it a priority, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Hours before lawmakers concluded the 2012 legislative session, a House compromise proposal to revamp the state’s personal injury protection insurance squeaked through the Senate after a procedural vote of 21-19 got backers over the top.

A subsequent vote on the bill (HB 119) was 22-17, giving Scott his top priority for the session.

“Every one of you will be able to deliver lower rates for your constituents, especially in areas where they can least afford it,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, House sponsor of the bill.

Following the vote, Scott came to the chambers to thank leaders for their effort, and a short time later he was writing thank you notes to the legislators.

The measure reduces the types of treatments that PIP will pay for, though opponents of the bill said it did that too much.

Critics in the Senate, including most Democrats and a handful of Republicans, said the House bill penalized chiropractors, and others who won’t be able to treat accident victims as easily, or at all under PIP, and also the patients who would use those types of practitioners.

The compromise would require patients to seek care within 14 days of a crash and prescribes what type of care. Only $2,500 of the $10,000 in coverage could be used to pay for non-emergency care.

The legislation blocks out chiropractors unless patients are referred one to by a physician. Acupuncturists and massage therapists would not be allowed to tap into PIP payments. The chiropractic debate was especially heated.

“What the House is trying to cram down our throats is an insurance company relief act,” said Sen. Miguel de la Portilla, R-Miami, an opponent of the bill. He’d favored an earlier Senate plan.

Opponents had pushed for taking a break, and returning in a special session to start over on the complicated issues, in which several different interest groups – insurers, various types of health care professionals, and trial lawyers – had a financial stake.

“This is a very punitive bill to patients,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole. “This needs to be voted down and we can come back.”

The bill also says insurers must notify their customer within 30 days if they suspect fraud. They are given another 60 days to investigate. During that investigation insured persons must submit, if requested, to an examination under oath.

Attorney fees would not be capped but they would no longer be able to apply a multiplier, which historically has been used to raise compensation for lawyers for complex cases.

The bill requires insurance companies to show a 10 percent reduction in premiums by Oct. 1 and a 25 percent decrease by 2014. The bill also gives the Office of Insurance Regulation authority to rescind licenses of companies that fail to meet the savings goals.

Reaction to the vote was immediate, with backers saying the compromise measure, though imperfect, represents meaningful reforms.

“This is a triumphant moment for the residents of Florida,” Scott said shortly after the vote. “Members of the Legislature heard our call to put Floridians ahead of special interests and combat the fraud that has become a billion dollar tax on drivers.”

“The Florida Legislature, along with Gov. Scott and CFO (Jeff) Atwater, clearly recognize that it is critical that we change the incentives in the system to reduce PIP fraud,” Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said in a statement.

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.