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Attempt to overhaul state’s no-fault auto insurance system fails in Senate subcommittee

The legislation, one of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s priorities, would have ended the state’s no-fault auto insurance law and moved Florida to an at-fault system similar to those in 38 other states.
[LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times]
[LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Mar. 1, 2018

A controversial bill that would have repealed the state's no-fault auto insurance system and personal injury protection requirement was effectively killed Wednesday afternoon by a Senate subcommittee, though a procedural move to temporarily postpone the legislation put it on life support.

The legislation, one of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's priorities, would have ended the state's no-fault auto insurance law and moved Florida to an at-fault system similar to those in 38 other states. It would have eliminated the requirement that vehicle owners buy personal injury protection coverage, which would provide them with up to $10,000 in immediate medical coverage regardless of who caused the crash. Instead, if enacted, vehicle owners would have had to buy bodily injury liability coverage that would cover people in other vehicles if the policy holder caused an injury.

Florida is one of two states that does not require auto owners to buy bodily injury and property damage coverage to operate their cars, though drivers who have been involved in a crash or convicted of certain traffic offenses must maintain bodily injury coverage, according to a staff analysis.

The Senate bill also included a requirement to buy up to $5,000 in emergency medical coverage, known as MedPay, though that requirement was absent from the House bill. A 2016 analysis commissioned by the state Office of Insurance Regulation had suggested that without MedPay, the repeal bill would cause average auto insurance premiums to dip by about $80.

The House version of the bill, HB 19, sailed through the chamber early in the session with Corcoran's backing. But the companion bill, SB 150, stalled in the Senate for after it was sent over more than a month before it was heard in the Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Proponents had said the PIP repeal bill would improve coverage for drivers and make sure a driver who caused a crash paid more for damage, medical treatment and legal costs.

Currently, "PIP still does a lot better job serving lawyers and providers than it does serving the insured," sponsor Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa said.

But opponents of the Senate bill contended the change was too hasty and that coverage provisions in the bill could cause premiums to rise.

Much of the debate in the committee centered on a series of amendments, including an unsuccessful one from Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, that would have removed the MedPay requirement and restricted lawsuits claiming "bad faith" by insurers.

Passidomo criticized MedPay as "simply another version of the no-fault system," and said that the changes to the language on "bad faith" lawsuits would set reasonable time frames for settlements and allow insurers to investigate accidents and make determinations in 45 days.

Though some insurance industry groups said they supported the amendment's changes to "bad faith" lawsuits, medical organizations, including the Florida Medical Association and the American College of Physicians, objected to not mandating emergency coverage, saying it might penalize emergency care physicians by delaying or decreasing payments.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, successfully proposed increasing MedPay coverage, though the amendment that change was attached to ultimately failed.

The bill itself was voted down 6-2. Committee chair Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, then moved to temporarily postpone the bill even though she had voted against it.

"I'm still in favor of this public policy discussion moving forward," she told reporters after the vote, saying she voted against it so she could procedurally make the motion to put the bill on hold.

The move, she added, means her subcommittee could vote on the legislation again if it is called back, though that is unlikely with less than two weeks remaining in the session. The Senate Rules committee could also choose to reassign the bill to new committees, though that is unlikely as well.

"Even terminally ill patients have hope," Flores said.

Lee called the discussion over the bill a "proxy fight" over bad faith reforms, and said that the bill faces a difficult path forward though it could still technically be revived.

"I'm a big process person and I do believe we shouldn't be bastardizing the process to try to get a bill to the floor," he said.


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