President, United Automobile Insurance Group, North Miami Beach
Q: United Auto Insurance is one of the largest writers in the state for personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage. How bad is the fraud problem with phony medical clinics and auto accident victims faking injuries?
The (insurance) department said that in the Miami area, over 80 percent of the PIP cases are fraud. We think about 95 percent of the cases are total fraud. We've had about 10 contemporaries go broke in the last 10 months. It was really the PIP that killed everybody.
Q: What's your survival strategy?
We battle it from start to finish. We have about 4,000 lawsuits, and we get in about 400 lawsuits every month. . . . We have 13 full-time fraud investigators.
If you go back four or five years ago, we were about the only ones fighting it (in court) and the department looked at us with a jaundiced eye.
You have to go to court if you're going to fight PIP fraud because you can't afford to pay it. About five or six years ago, the average bill was $4,200. You'd pay $3,500 and be done with it. Now the PIP claims are running $14,000 . . . $16,000.
You have to know all the players. You have to know the phony clinics and the phony doctors. So we're doing very well. In 2000, we wrote about $35-million in business in Florida. Last year, we wrote $190-million.
Q: What PIP reform would you like to see?
For one thing, we use a government form, a health care administrative form. We need a form . . . that must be signed by the health care worker who provided the treatment, as well as the recipient of the treatment. Stiffer penalties are a big part of it. . . . Right now, all the fraud we get is reduced to a misdemeanor or a slap on the hand of 20 hours of community service, and they're right back in business.
_ JEFF HARRINGTON