Lawmakers begin wrestling with PIPby John Kennedy | November 16th, 2011
A day after Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater urged lawmakers to overhaul Florida’s personal injury protection auto insurance standard, House and Senate panels began Wednesday what is likely to prove months of wrestling with the issue.
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, had his proposal (HB 119) dissected by the House Insurance and Banking Committee, with legislators quizzing him about efforts to limit lawyers’ fees, expand clinic regulations, and limiting the number of visits an accident victim can make to massage therapists and chiropractors.
Two lawmakers, Rep. Bill Hager, a Boca Raton Republican, and Rep. Evan Jenne, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, urged lawmakers to consider scrapping personal injury protection completely — saying the system was beyond repair.
“Have we arrived at a point where we say this sucker is such a rotting carcass that we’ve got to throw it out?” Hager said.
Boyd, however, said the Legislature should make one more attempt at repairing PIP — the $10,000 mandatory insurance coverage which critics say for years has spawned a lucrative industry of staged auto accidents, unneeded medical treatments, and frivolous lawsuits.
“We still think we have a chance to salvage this thing,” Boyd said.
While Boyd was pitching his bill, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee was hearing testimony from a wide-range of industry representatives. Among them: Gary Brown, who runs Choice Medical Centers, operating in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
Brown said lawmakers could help shrink what critics say is almost $1 billion in higher insurance and legal costs borne by Floridians, if they more strictly regulated clinics. He said legislation should demand tougher licensing requirements and bar clinics from referring patients to lawyers.
But Brown also said the insurance industry needs to be a focus for any legislation.
Boyd’s bill, and others being developed, chiefly target those making money off insurers. Brown, though, gave the industry low marks.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, asked Brown to grade on a 1-to-10 scale how responsive companies are to paying PIP claims.
“I’d say zero,” Brown said, saying the industry’s cold shoulder fuels lawsuits.