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PIP plan retains the basic system
House GOP leaders seek a way to keep no-fault insurance.
By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published August 22, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Florida House Republican leadership released a plan late Tuesday that aims to redo the state's current no-fault auto insurance system, which is otherwise set to expire on Oct. 1.
Initial reaction suggests it's just as controversial as the current system.
On Oct. 1, drivers will no longer have to buy personal injury protection, or PIP, policies, which pay medical benefits for injuries in car crashes no matter who caused them.
The House bill retains the basic no-fault system with a $10,000 injury benefit. But it also caps attorneys' fees and requires PIP clinics to be owned by doctors. It also requires insurers to pay the entire medical benefit without a policyholder co-payment. (Current law says insurers pay 80 percent; policyholders pay 20 percent.)
"I'm not going to tell you it's perfect," said House Whip Ellyn Bogdanoff, who has been working on the legislation all summer. "You're trying to gain a consensus in the Florida House and balancing what constituents are saying, while recognizing we are seeing abuses in the system."
The bill also would give the attorney general power to prosecute insurers that "systematically deny claims," Bogdanoff said.
It's unclear how the Senate will react to the proposal, since few senators had seen it on Tuesday. Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Bill Posey, who was unreachable late Tuesday, has said in the past that he would like to see broader limits on prices that hospitals and clinics charge for services. There are no such price limits in the House proposal, but it does say medical providers can't charge more than what is "usual and customary."
Bogdanoff acknowledged the Senate would likely have some problems with the bill, especially the portion that caps attorneys' fees.
Even so, House leaders said they were confident the proposal was the best they could do at this point.
"This is an opportunity for the Senate to get engaged on the issue or unilaterally decide to sunset PIP," said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner. "PIP going away is not the worst-case scenario. Keeping PIP as it is today is the worst-case scenario."
The House proposal came a few hours after House Democrats had released a letter they wrote to the governor, House speaker and Senate president asking for a one-year extension to the state's current no-fault laws.
"To deal with majorly over-hauling PIP law in this matter is not doing it justice," said Rep. Rick Kriseman, a St. Petersburg attorney who works on PIP cases.
"We should be using the committee process and fully vetting out all the ideas and using the full general session to come to what is ultimately the best law we can come up with."
Kriseman said that he and other lawyers are concerned the attorney fee cap, proposed at $5,000 or three times the amount of the total benefit, would deter attorneys from taking up PIP cases.
And the state's largest auto insurer likely won't be a fan of the legislation. State Farm lobbyist Mark Delegal said State Farm won't support the bill if it doesn't include specific limits on medical prices or language to prevent hospitals and clinics from over-prescribing unnecessary tests.