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Legislature

Senate stalls car insurance fraud bill

Senate President Jim King held out hope that a compromise could be reached today on the measure.

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published May 1, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Senate halted plans to rein in auto insurance fraud Wednesday after members couldn't agree on how much to pay doctors or what to do about lawyers who file costly lawsuits.

Responding to last-minute lobbying by doctors and lawyers, the Senate moved away from a plan favored by the insurance industry and closer to a plan backed by the House.

An amendment introduced by a Democratic senator changed everything.

Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, succeeded in removing an entire section of the bill. The section included a fee schedule for doctors that would pay them 200 percent of Medicare and an alternative means for solving disputes without lawsuits.

Insurance companies saw both provisions as vital because they say doctors and lawyers contribute to higher insurance premiums with unnecessary tests, extra medical visits and excessive lawsuits.

No compromise had been reached by the end of the day, but Senate President Jim King held out hope one could be reached today on the measure (SB 1202).

Others were not so optimistic.

"The reason this issue is broken is because too many people are earning too much damn money off the system," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, in arguing against changing the bill. "We are going to be right back at the end of the day, where we started, with a bill that doesn't solve anything."

But bill sponsor JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, lost to a coalition of most Senate Democrats and some Republicans, including Majority Leader Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island.

"If you are going to keep this section in, you ought to just flush it," Campbell said before his critical amendment passed and brought discussion to a stop.

The bill came up as the first order of business Tuesday with 58 amendments, a staggering number for the final days of the session. That prompted King to ask members to act swiftly, speak only if they felt they must and be considerate with the limited time they had left.

King asked Alexander in January to lead a committee that would "fix or flush" the state's Personal Injury Protection auto insurance system, and Alexander answered with a bill insurance lobbyists recommended.

The Legislature is trying to slow rising fraud by people intentionally causing accidents to file claims, along with others who take advantage of the system. Fraud costs Floridians an extra $240 a year in premiums.

But the bill encountered serious problems this week when lobbyists representing a coalition of health care providers, diagnostic clinics and attorneys said Alexander's bill hardly touched on fraud.

[Last modified May 1, 2003, 04:06:34]


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