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Senate PIP reforms get warm reception

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate's plan to reform the no-fault auto insurance program has already achieved what its counterpart in the House has not: unanimous approval from a committee.

Insurers and business groups have sided in favor of the House proposal, while Democrats, consumer advocacy organizations and attorneys have lined up against it. But the Senate legislation received almost universal support from them all in its first committee hearing Thursday.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who sponsored the legislation, said reducing PIP fraud was his primary goal, but he also did not want to penalize people who file legitimate claims and receive treatment from reputable health care professionals.

"Let's make sure that insurance companies are paying them in a timely manner with a reasonable rate," he told the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

The Senate plan excludes massage therapy and acupuncture from the list of allowable treatments under the personal injury protection, or PIP, system. It also tightens licensing requirements for medical clinics, requires long-form crash reports when someone is injured in a crash and creates a statewide organization to help fight PIP abuses.

The House's approach is much more controversial, mainly because it requires people injured in an auto accident to be treated first in an emergency room. It also caps attorneys fees and allows insurance companies to examine policyholders and doctors under oath when investigating claims.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said the plan received bipartisan support because it reflects a series of compromises that appeases all sides while still leaving them wanting more.

"People weren't totally unhappy, and people weren't totally happy," she said. "That means it's a good bill."

The proposal must be approved by another committee before it reaches the Senate floor. If the two chambers cannot agree on an identical version of the legislation, one side will have to relent or, in rare instances, a joint House-Senate conference committee will be formed to resolve the differences.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Senate PIP reforms get warm reception 02/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 2, 2012 10:15pm]
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