Time running out on PIP reform

With just a couple of weeks left before the end of the legislative session, the drive to reform Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system is on an uncertain track. Two competing bills are advancing through the Legislature, but they are so far apart, it’s unclear whether there is enough time to rectify them and come up with a single reform measure everyone can agree on.

If legislators truly want reform, and if they are sincere in their effort to zero in on fraud, then this should be a no-brainer. Pass Sen. Joe Negron’s consumer-friendly, anti-fraud bill, and leave Rep. Jim Boyd’s disastrous House version where it belongs, in the trash heap.

There’s a good reason Boyd’s HB 119 has been called “the insurance industry wish list.” It does nothing to target the fraud the industry has scapegoated as the key factor in rising car insurance premiums. Instead, even with recent concessions added to soften the blow, it would ruin the business climate for legitimate medical providers, lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in the health care field, and cripple accident victims’ access to quality health care.

After crushing criticism, Boyd agreed to remove HB 119’s most ballyhooed provision – the mandate that accident victims must report to a hospital emergency room within 72 hours to quality for the PIP coverage they paid for, even if they suffered only minor injuries. Though patients would be free to go to their own doctors, Boyd left in the requirement that they must do so within 72 hours, a devastating mistake. Since symptoms of many accident injuries can take weeks to show up, Floridians would have to seek treatment under high-deductible medical plans, making them pay twice for the same coverage. The bill also would cap those initial treatment expenses at $1,500, an unreasonable restriction. It’s a disaster in the making.

But that’s just the beginning of HB 119’s parade of horribles. By capping attorney fees — for consumers and medical providers but not deep-pocketed insurers — and requiring onerous site inspections of medical providers, the measure is an attempt to eliminate Florida consumers’ most effective advocates.

Thankfully, Negron, R-Stuart, has filed a more sensible measure that truly seeks to combat fraud. Not only does SB 1860 establish an organization to support, prosecute, investigate and prevent fraud, it holds both unscrupulous insurers and doctors accountable. Insurers that fail to pay valid PIP claims would be subject to new action for unfair and deceptive practice, and doctors convicted of fraud would lose their license for five years and be barred from submitting a PIP claim for 10 years. That’s fair.

Negron’s bill isn’t perfect, but if fraud is truly the target for reform, his effort would get the job done long before Boyd’s pro-industry “fix.”

Which measure carries the day may very well determine whether accident victims have access to quality medical care — and whether medical providers will be able to continue to do business in a toxic environment. Florida can’t stomach any more industry-friendly wish lists. Insurers have had their way in Tallahassee long enough.

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