Automobile accidents could be more costly
By JANET ZINK
Published June 7, 2007
TAMPA - The city's Fire Rescue department wants to start charging for services provided at the scenes of automobile accidents.
The City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal today.
The fees, which will range from $450 for an accident investigation to $2, 400 for extracting victims from their vehicles and arranging for air transportation to a hospital, will be charged directly to drivers' property, liability or casualty insurance coverage, according to Fire Rescue Division Chief Nick LoCicero.
"We have been thinking about this for several years and with the issues before us now, this was something Fire Rescue decided to pursue, " LoCicero said.
Mayor Pam Iorio asked the department to cut $2.7-million from its budget this year in anticipation of property tax reform at the state level that's likely to slash city revenues.
The fire department responds to more than 7, 500 accidents every year. At a 100 percent reimbursement rate, the fees would generate about $2-million a year, LoCicero said. But because not everyone has insurance and not all automobile insurance policies offer coverage for car crash emergency services, he expects to pull in about half that much.
"We're billing the insurance company, not the individual, " he said. "If they decide not to pay, we're not actively pursuing it."
A third-party billing company, Advanced Data Processing, will collect the fees and keep 6 percent of the collections.
The fire department also wants to increase charges for transporting patients to local hospitals from the current rate of $330 to $500 plus $5 a mile. The proposed rate would be $600 and $10 a mile.
Council members say they support the measure.
"It's part of what you get for paying car insurance, " said council member Linda Saul-Sena. "It won't have a negative impact on our constituents, and it's a way to generate revenue, which is something we need."
"The people themselves won't have to pay for it, " said council member Tom Scott. "I'm not opposed to it as long as we understand it's going after insurance companies."
"If there's an opportunity to recover from the automobile insurance companies then we should, " said council member John Dingfelder. "I'm surprised we haven't done it earlier."
Maitland and Winter Park have also launched motor vehicle accident fees in recent years, which are becoming more common across the country, much to the chagrin of the insurance industry.
"Somebody has to pay for it, and the consumer always does, " said Gary Landry, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council.
"This is nothing but double taxation, " said David Snyder, vice president of the American Insurance Association, who argued the fees charge people a second time for fundamental services that should be covered by taxes. "If your taxes aren't paying for those in the first place, why are you paying taxes at all?"
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3401.
[Last modified June 7, 2007, 01:19:32]
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