Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a law aimed at cutting down on an epidemic of car insurance fraud in Florida, fulfilling one of his top goals.
Changes to PIP, or personal injury protection coverage, was one of Scott's three priorities in the 2012 legislative session. He signed HB 119 in Jacksonville, accompanied by law enforcement officials.
"This legislation will benefit the pocketbooks of every Florida family who drives an automobile," Scott said.
Florida's $10,000 PIP benefit has led to widespread abuse, staged car accidents and phony injuries that have sent insurance premiums skyrocketing to a level that many people can no longer afford. The two biggest areas for fraud in the state are Tampa and Miami.
"This is a last-ditch attempt to deal with some form of required insurance to drive in this state. Will it work? I don't have a clue," said Walter Dartland of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, which supported the legislation. "People are clever. There's always going to be someone out to scam the system."
Under the new law, accident victims must be treated within 14 days, starting Jan. 1. Benefits will no longer pay for acupuncture and massage therapy, which state lawmakers decided were not medically necessary.
Most parts of the law take effect July 1, including stricter licensing of medical clinics, more use of long-form crash reports and stiffer penalties for providers who commit fraud. Judges can review attorneys' fees to ensure they are not excessive.
Only people with emergency medical conditions can receive the full $10,000 PIP benefit. Others will be eligible for $2,500 in treatment, which is designed to cut down on the range of treatments victims receive.
Russel Lazega, a Broward County attorney who represents several Tampa Bay area hospitals, said the $2,500 limit is low and unfairly punishes hospitals.
"It's a horrendous piece of legislation that's going to hurt our hospitals," Lazega said.
Scott called PIP fraud a "billion-dollar tax" on Florida motorists. He and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater aggressively pushed for passage of an anti-fraud measure but the bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, almost didn't happen.
It narrowly passed the Senate on a 22-17 vote on the final night of the session, as opponents complained that the bill would unfairly make it harder for injured motorists to receive medical treatment.
PIP reform was one of 36 bills Scott signed into law Friday, as he concluded action on bills passed by the 2012 Legislature.
Another bill Scott signed, SB 268, will allow commercial advertising on seven state-owned trails for the first time, with most revenue used to operate and maintain the trails. They include the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, the Nature Coast State Trail and the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.