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A Times Editorial

Don't adjourn without passing PIP reform

The Florida Legislature should not leave Tallahassee today without passing meaningful and reasonable reform to the state's auto accident insurance law. It is the one measure left that would directly ease the financial burden on any Floridian who owns a car. Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, still trying to reach a compromise between radically different approaches late Thursday, should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

In Tampa Bay, one of the state's epicenters for staged accidents, Hillsborough County has shown it isn't so hard to make at least some impact on the state's so-called "fraud tax." That's the nickname for the ever-growing portion of premiums that auto insurers charge to cover claims under the state's no-fault personal injury protection law, which provides accident victims up to $10,000 in necessary medical coverage and lost wages.

Staged accidents in Hillsborough are down 62 percent just five months after the county passed ordinances requiring that accident clinics be run by physicians, provide backgrounds on employees and maintain regular business hours. Staged accidents are just one part of the PIP problem. The other is unscrupulous professionals who have learned to maximize medical payments under PIP. As a result, Florida families are paying on average 81 percent more for PIP coverage than in 2008.

The House proposes limiting to one week the amount of time accident victims have to initiate a PIP claim by seeing a doctor; the Senate would limit it to 14 days. And in general, the Senate's overall approach has been more reasonable, embracing a licensing plan similar to Hillsborough's and focusing on systemic changes such as long-form accident forms that list everyone in a car wreck.

Both the House and Senate have appropriately embraced eliminating PIP payments for massage and acupuncture services — two specialities that receive a disproportionate amount of PIP payments. The House also wants to eliminate chiropractors from those who can initially diagnose a victim's injuries, which the Senate is fighting.

But the differences don't stop there. The House's cap on legal fees would create more consumer problems, hurting reputable doctors and the accident victim's ability to find a lawyer to challenge a recalcitrant insurer's failure to pay.

The Senate's late amendment requiring insurers to cut PIP premiums 25 percent or explain why they aren't may also need to be scrapped. A simple mandate that companies file new PIP rate reviews after so many months of reforms might be an easier sale.

This much appears certain as the clock ticks toward tonight's adjournment: The Senate is unlikely to embrace a legal fee cap and the House probably won't accept a mandated rate cut for insurers. Legislative leaders should take those off the table and work with what's left to find relief for Florida's families. If they fail today, Scott should call them back to Tallahassee to try again in a special legislation session.

Don't adjourn without passing PIP reform 03/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 7:37pm]
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