Make us your home page
Instagram

Lawmakers will try again to curb PIP insurance fraud

TALLAHASSEE — For Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators, the problem is painfully obvious: Car insurance fraud costs drivers nearly $1 billion a year in increased premiums.

Now they must confront the problem and reduce fraud in a minefield of interests including insurers, doctors, chiropractors, hospitals and lawyers.

Scott says they can fix it. But many have tried before and failed and as a result, fraud in personal injury protection (PIP) is worse than ever, and insurance premiums are higher than ever.

The latest reform effort began in earnest this week as Senate and House committees tackled PIP fraud. A solution, if there is one, is months away.

"I believe we can and should save PIP," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said in testimony before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. "It's been hijacked."

Among the proposals lawmakers are considering are caps on attorneys' fees; limits on how many times patients can undergo procedures such as massage therapy or chiropractic care; stricter regulation of storefront pain clinics; the hiring of more fraud investigators to crack more cases; and allowing insurers more than the 30 days under current law to determine whether claims are legitimate.

In the PIP fraud centers of Tampa and Miami, as elsewhere, minor fender-benders have become major profit centers as paid runners recruit "victims" from accident reports and lure them to clinics, often for a fee, so they can exhaust the $10,000 PIP benefit.

Lawyer referral services, advertising on TV and Facebook, appeal to victims with promises of recouping lost wages and paying all medical expenses.

At the Senate hearing, Atwater faulted the insurance industry for not disclosing data on claims that could help lawmakers find a solution, and he said the state should insist that any reduction in fraud that lowers premiums be returned to consumers.

An industry representative said antitrust laws limit how much information the companies can make public.

Some lawmakers say the system is beyond repair and should be abolished, and that a mandatory $10,000 benefit creates an irresistible money pot for scam artists.

"You can't fix PIP," says Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland. "There will always be rampant fraud."

Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, said he will propose repealing PIP in 2014 and replacing it with a law requiring all drivers to carry bodily injury insurance and an "inexpensive" emergency medical payment.

Hospitals and insurers not only want to retain PIP, they want to increase the $10,000 benefit. They testified in favor of raising the benefit, in effect since 1979, to justify rising health care costs. Senators quickly dismissed the idea.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the point man for PIP reform in the House, says insurance companies can cite losses to justify higher premiums that they pass on to policyholders.

"The ones hurt the most are the working families, the single mothers, who can ill afford these prices," Boyd said. "I still believe there's a chance to fix this problem."

PIP fraud has been around in Florida for a long time.

In June 2000, then-Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson's office broke up a fraud ring and arrested 51 people in Miami and Hialeah following a yearlong investigation.

Also that year, a statewide grand jury confirmed that PIP fraud was rampant throughout the state, and repeated legislative attempts to curb fraud have been dismissed as timid and ineffective.

The 2000 grand jury report noted that 20 years earlier, a Dade County grand jury "criticized this practice of 'ambulance chasing.' "

"Here we are again," said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lawmakers will try again to curb PIP insurance fraud 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]
  2. Pasco EDC names business incubator head in Dade City, will open second site

    Business

    Pasco County economic development officials are busy reigniting their business start-up resources following the departure earlier this year of Krista Covey, who ran the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart business incubator in Dade City.

    Andrew Romaner was promoted this summer to serve as program director of the Dade City SMARTStart Entrepreneur Center, a start-up incubator service of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He succeeds Krista Covey, who relocated to Texas for another startup position. [Courtesy of Pasco EDC]
  3. Proposed Tampa tax increase prompts second thoughts about Riverfront Park spending

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a $35.5 million price tag with something for everyone, including a rowers' boathouse, a sheltered cove for beginning paddlers, an event lawn, a community center with sweeping views of downtown and all kinds of athletic courts — even pickleball! — when it opens …

    Expect the $35.5 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park to be a big part of the discussion when the Tampa City Council discusses Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed budget and property tax increase this Thursday. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Superior Uniform acquires Los Angeles-based PublicIdentity

    Corporate

    SEMINOLE — A subsidiary of Seminole-based Superior Uniform Group has acquired Los Angeles-based branded merchandise company PublicIdentity Inc.

    Superior Uniform Group CEO Michael Benstock
[Courtesy of Superior Uniform Group]