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Compromise may save PIP
Negotiators propose tweaks to Florida's no-fault insurance program before it expires.
By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative negotiators hammered out a tentative deal Friday to save Florida's no-fault auto insurance program, days before it is set to expire.
The deal, which still needs approval from the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist, would extend indefinitely a law requiring all drivers to buy personal injury protection, which provides $10,000 of coverage no matter who caused the accident.
The PIP system, which critics say is plagued with fraud, is to expire Oct. 1 if a deal is not approved in a special session before then.
Key parts of the agreement include tightening restrictions on who can own a PIP clinic; capping costs of some medical services for PIP patients; and allocating more money to prosecute insurance fraud.
"It's not perfect, because it's not everything we wanted," said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who kept in contact with House Speaker Marco Rubio during negotiations. "But it goes a long way for ensuring when the consumer pays for PIP, we're not paying for fraud."
The next step is for the governor and leaders of the House and Senate to review the proposal and decide whether to call a special session, which could happen as early as next week.
The governor will be briefed on the deal this weekend and will "consider his support for it," said Erin Isaac, the governor's spokeswoman.
Rubio said earlier this week he was optimistic about PIP negotiations, and his spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin said he has "enormous confidence" in Bogdanoff's work.
The deal came after about a week's worth of negotiations, hosted by the governor's office, between key people involved in the PIP system.
The final agreement resolves sticking points that had held up progress between the House and Senate, including how to cap the cost of medical services, which had been important to Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, the Senate's auto insurance expert.
Under the new PIP deal, the price of all PIP medical services, except emergency room care, will be capped at 200 percent of what Medicare pays for the same services. The cost of emergency room care would be capped at 75 percent of what is "usual and customary," according to a PIP analysis prepared for the negotiators.
Another sticking point was whether to cap attorney's fees, which the House wanted, but the Senate opposed.
The legislation fails to cap attorney's fees, but requires all PIP lawsuits to first go through nonbinding mediation. The deal also forces some types of PIP lawsuits to be consolidated, in an effort to prevent PIP attorneys from filing related lawsuits and collecting separate fees on behalf of one person.
Representatives of the medical industry who were involved in the talks said they were satisfied with the deal. But one group is not happy -- big auto insurers like State Farm and Allstate.
"None of our insurance industry partners signed off on the deal; it seems like PIP light to us," said Allison North Jones, spokeswoman for Floridians for Lower Insurance Costs, a group largely funded by major auto insurers, including State Farm, Allstate, AIG, Progressive and Travelers.
"I think what you're seeing is a last ditch effort to qualify all of these moving parts of the deal with nine days left before we scrap this broken system."
Jones characterized the deal as "bad policy, which was done quickly and in the dark."
Insurers dislike that the deal fails to cap attorneys' fees or limit the number of treatments a PIP patient may receive.
Insurers say that one aspect of the deal will raise auto insurance rates by preventing them from selling optional PIP deductibles, with which risky drivers can lower their rates by agreeing to pay the first $1,000 of injury coverage if they get into an accident.
Lawmakers who heard of the deal late Friday said they were excited and hopeful the Legislature would hold a special session and pass the PIP deal before the Oct. 1 sunset.
Lawmakers had announced a special session starting Oct. 3 to deal with the budget, but nobody has made the "official call," meaning they could return instead on Oct. 1 to deal with PIP as well. Another option would be to convene one day late next week, when some lawmakers are already scheduled to be in Tallahassee for committee meetings.
"I think this really represents a viable compromise and I think it will win over bipartisan support if we're called into special session," said Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, one of a group of Republican House members who had been assessing Republican support for a deal.