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PIP: Scott ‘arm bending’ works. DLP ‘phoney-baloney’ rant. Negron ‘not a home-and-away’ game.

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott scored a huge victory late Friday night when the Florida Senate signed off on a last-ditch effort to crack down on personal injury protection fraud.

By a narrow 21-19 vote, the once-again divided Senate agreed to the compromise language passed earlier this evening by the House, and then passed the measure (HB 119) 22-17.

But the vote elicited rebukes from some senators who wanted the upper chamber to stand its ground and refuse to concur with the proposal – crafted largely by insurance industry lobbyists – in a debate highlighted by a stemwinder by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Diaz de la Portilla, a lawyer, repeatedly called the deal a “phoney baloney” attempt to combat fraud and pilloried the House for bowing to powerful insurance lobbyists and the governor, who made PIP reform his top priority this legislative session. Diaz de la Portilla had convinced the Senate in its version of the PIP reform to keep intact “multipliers” allowing lawyers to be paid escalated fees. The compromise did away with that but, in a concession to the Senate, did not cap attorneys’ fees or set an hourly rate.

Growing more incensed as his rant went on, Diaz de la Portilla said that PIP scams aren’t the real fraud.

“I think the House measure that’s been sent over to us and that we’re being asked to concede to, that’s the fraud. It’s a fraud on the consumers of the state of Florida. It’s a fraud on the people who have to buy these policies by law. It’s a fraud on those who are injured in accidents. It’s a fraud because it basically is the Insurance Company Relief Act of 2012. That’s what it is. That’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Diaz de la Portilla said, referring to the package as “phoney-baloney” at least three times to the delight of a bipartisan group of senators surrounding him.

The compromise does not require a set rate reduction, as the Senate plan did, but requires an actuarial analysis by an independent party to back up a detailed explanation of insurers’ rates if they do not roll back by 10 percent by October and 25 percent by 2014.
Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole chiropractor who said he is probably the only senator who actually treated a PIP patient, called the bill a “very, very punitive” measure for chiropractors. Patients will now be limited to $2,500 worth of chiropractic treatment, a change from the 24 visits over three months now allowed.

Gov. Rick Scott scored a huge victory late Friday night when the Florida Senate signed off on a last-ditch effort to crack down on personal injury protection fraud.

By a narrow 21-19 vote, the once-again divided Senate agreed to the compromise language passed earlier this evening by the House, and then passed the measure (HB 119) 22-17.

But the vote elicited rebukes from some senators who wanted the upper chamber to stand its ground and refuse to concur with the proposal – crafted largely by insurance industry lobbyists – in a debate highlighted by a stemwinder by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Diaz de la Portilla, a lawyer, repeatedly called the deal a “phoney baloney” attempt to combat fraud and pilloried the House for bowing to powerful insurance lobbyists and the governor, who made PIP reform his top priority this legislative session. Diaz de la Portilla convinced the Senate in its version of the PIP reform to keep intact “multipliers” allowing lawyers to be paid escalated fees. The compromise did away with that but, in a concession to the Senate, did not cap attorneys’ fees or set an hourly rate.

Growing more incensed as his rant went on, Diaz de la Portilla said that PIP scams aren’t the real fraud.

“I think the House measure that’s been sent over to us and that we’re being asked to concede to, that’s the fraud. It’s a fraud on the consumers of the state of Florida. It’s a fraud on the people who have to buy these policies by law. It’s a fraud on those who are injured in accidents. It’s a fraud because it basically is the Insurance Company Relief Act of 2012. That’s what it is. That’s exactly what we’re talking about,” Diaz de la Portilla said, referring to the package as “phoney-baloney” at least three times to the delight of a bipartisan group of senators surrounding him.

Sen. Dennis Jones, a chiropractor who said he is probably the only senator who actually treated a PIP patient, called the bill a “very, very punitive” measure for chiropractors. Patients will now be limited to $2,500 worth of chiropractic treatment, a change from who will now be limited to $2,500 worth of treatment. The House originally wanted to cut chiros out from PIP treatment altogether.

“I know it’s late and I know you all just want to flush something out and go home,” Jones, R-Seminole, said, adding “You’re making a major, major mistake.”

Scott worked lawmakers especially hard on PIP, stepping up pressure as the clock wound down toward the session end Friday. The governor gave hand-written thank you notes to House and Senate members who voted “yes” on the bill.

But Jones wasn’t on that list, especially after calling out Scott before the vote.

“Most people have had their arms bent or twisted or been down to the governors office two or three times,” Jones said.

Sen. Joe Negron, the Stuart Republican who brokered the deal for the Senate and sponsored the chamber’s trial lawyer-friendlier proposal, rejected his colleague’s criticism that the Senate would be giving up too much by taking the House offer.

It isn’t true “that somehow we’ve been run out of the gym by the House and we shouldn’t concur on their message because we passed our bill and by God our bill is better than their bill,” Negron said. “Anytime you have a bill of this magnitude, you’ve got to make principled compromises and find a middle ground.”

Negron then defended his efforts to keep chiropractors in the mix at all.

“The House wanted to take chiropractors, tie two 50-pound cement blocks to their ankles and drop them over the boat into the bottom of the ocean. And they were never going to be heard from in PIP again. I found that very offensive,” Negron, a lawyer, said.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a former Senate president who pushed alongside Scott for the overhaul, called Senate critics “dead wrong” about the deal.

“The Senate got all its fraud language. The Senate got all its licensure language. The Senate got room for chiropractic care. The Senate did not cap attorneys fees. The Senate did a fine job. The House was very firm on driving the cost drivers of utilization down. They came together with a really solid compromise,” Atwater said.

Atwater said he’s certain premiums will decrease although the bill does not require it.

“I think they’re going to see when that independent study comes down that they’re going to indicate rates need to be coming down. They need to come down now,” he said.

House approves compromise PIP package

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The House has signed off on a last-ditch effort to close out a deal with the Senate on personal injury protection reform, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

But despite frenzied lobbying by insurance company representatives and Scott, it remains unclear whether the deal has enough support in the Senate to get the 21 votes needed to pass. Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater have made PIP fraud one of their primary focuses of the legislative session.

The compromise, passed with a party-line 80-34 vote late this evening, would require patients to seek care within two weeks of a crash, a concession from the House’s original seven day requirement.

The House also agreed to allow up to $10,000 for emergency service coverage as determined by a physician, osteopath, dentist, physician’s assistant or registered nurse practitioner. Of that, $2,500 could be used for non-emergency medical care. Visits to chiropractors would be covered up to $2,500 for certain types of injuries, but would require a referral from one of the other health care providers for others. Acupuncturists and massage therapists would no longer be covered by PIP.

The deal also did away with the House’s original proposal that would have required initial care to take place only at a hospital or emergency room. Instead, injured patients would also be allowed to be seen by private physicians.

And the compromise would require insurance companies to notify claimants within 30 days if they suspect fraud, and gives another 60 days to investigate. One of the more controversial parts of the deal would require those whose claims are being investigated to submit to examinations under oath if their insurance companies ask.

And, in what could be a sticking point for the Senate, the deal would require insurers to roll back rates 10 percent by October and 25 percent by Jan. 1. 2014, or else give a “detailed explanation” to insurance regulators for why the rates were not reduced. The Senate had sought a 25 percent rate reduction.

House Democrats blasted the last-minute amendments, accusing the GOP sponsors of the measure (HB 119) of being pusillanimous and caving to insurance industry pressure, especially over the rate roll-back, which critics said has no teeth.

The measure includes no penalties for insurers who fail to meet the rate reductions, Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, objected.

“The fraudsters are the big insurance companies that wrote this amendment and that are continuing to say now, give us more profit and we’ll give you a Post-it note at the end of the day explaining why we can’t reduce rates,” Randolph said.

Insurance lobbyists huddled into the wee hours Friday morning crafting the measure and were back at it early the same day, with time running out to seal a deal with the Senate that Scott would approve.

With hours until the 60-day session was scheduled to end, Scott stepped up pressure on lawmakers, calling them and ordering them into his office. Scott also pleaded his case through the media with appearances on at least seven radio talk shows before 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.

Scott pushed lawmakers to “get it done” and threatened to call a special session if they did not pass a comprehensive PIP reform.

“If I had to I would (call a special session later on the issue) but there’s no reason we can’t get it done today,” Scott said on WFLA 540 AM in Orlando. “I’m very comfortable they’ll do the right thing.”

Scott’s advisors have said the House would not pass a package the governor did not approve.

“The House has some good provisions,” Scott said. He said he hoped they would “send it back to the Senate and I hope we get it passed today.”
- The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Special session on PIP?

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, insurers, chiropractors, masseuses, acupuncturists and consumer advocates are just some of the “special interests” trying to have a say in a personal injury protection overhaul.

And with the House and Senate still far apart in their proposed solutions and just four days left until the legislative session wraps up, Senate President Mike Haridopolos would not rule out the possibility of a special session on the issue.

The Florida House passed a bill to loosen the grip of massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists last week, keeping alive one of Scott’s top legislative priorities. The Senate version, among other differences, puts fewer time restrictions on treatment but also largely shuts the door on massage therapy and acupuncture.

Stuart Republican Sen. Joe Negron, leading the charge on PIP reform in his chamber, called the differences reconcilable.

But Haridopolos said he’s not sure he’s got the votes to get the proposal out of his chamber at all.

“All I can do right now is try to figure out how it can pass in the Senate. I know the House has been on a little bit different glide path,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said, calling Negron’s bill “outstanding.”

“Overall, the fraud component has been handled in a thoughtful manner,” Haridopolos said. “I do support where he stands on massage and acupuncture but I’ve got to get it off this floor.”

Haridopolos said he’d be willing to come back in a special session on the matter, especially because he’s expecting lawmakers will have to come back to Tallahassee anyway to redraw legislative maps. The Senate President is expecting the Supreme Court to reject at least in part the new legislative districts. House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he does not want to hold a special session on PIP.

“I’m willing to come back. I think it’s an important issue. It’s not just the justice issue of eradicating fraud. It’s also a financial issue to a lot of families because they’re paying too much for auto insurance. So if we needed to have a special session, you won’t see me object at all,” Haridopolos said.

PIP overhaul looks like a longshot

Friday, February 24th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Legislature’s latest bid to revamp personal injury protection (PIP) auto insurance looks like it could collapse amid the same intra-industry squabbles that killed previous efforts over much of the past decade.

Gov. Rick Scott is an ardent advocate for reform — tucking the demand for action into his State of the State address in January.

Now, Capitol hall talk is swirling about the idea of a special session on the subject –that amounts to a rhetorical surrender on the idea of any deal being reached before the Legislature’s scheduled March 9 finish.

But House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said Friday that a special session isn’t part of his plans. Prospects for consensus also looks tough, he conceded.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to bring the House and Senate positions together before the end of session,” Cannon said. “But I’m not contemplating a special session on the issue.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes parts of northern Palm Beach County, is sponsoring a bill (SB 1860) that would  enact a series of  reforms, including implementing medical fee schedules, licensing medical clinics that provide personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, and requiring insurers to promptly pay claims.

Negron says his approach is closest to that pitched by Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who are pushing hard to rid the system of fraudulent claims and shady clinics who operate to draw on the $10,000 insurance coverage every Florida motorist is supposed to carry.

The House proposal (CS/HB 119)  by Rep. John Boyd, R-Bradenton, would scrap the state’s PIP law, replacing it with a proposed emergency care insurance that maintains the $10,000 medical coverage, but would require all accident victims to be treated in emergency rooms or by their personal physicians — not clinics — within 72 hours.

Massage therapists, accupuncturists and chiropractors would be from receiving PIP payments for medical treatments, under the House proposal.

The two sides are also split over attorneys fees.

 

Fired-up Scott champions House PIP reform critics call anti-consumer

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A fired-up Gov. Rick Scott gave proponents of changes to the state’s no-fault insurance laws a lesson in politics, urging them to knock on lawmakers’ doors and let them have it.

Scott joined a crusade led by business industry leaders and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater pushing legislation intended to crack down on personal injury protection insurance fraud the governor said is costing Floridians $1 billion a year.

And today Scott came out in favor of the House’s PIP fix, that would require people injured in auto accidents to be treated in emergency rooms within 72 hours, cap attorneys’ fees and prohibit chiropractors or massage therapists from providing follow-up care.

“This is how laws get changed. Show up and let your legislators know what you want. You’re sick and tired of this $1 billion a year of fraud. You’re tired of it. You’re tired of scammers taking advantage of you. You’re tired of attorneys taking advantage of you. Enough is enough. We need to change this,” Scott told dozens of PIP reform advocates at a press conference on the fourth-floor rotunda in the Capitol. “Now. How do you do it? You do exactly what you’re doing here. You show up and then you go to everybody’s office.”

The press conference came on the heels of a House committee’s approval of HB 119. Proponents of the changes – including Scott – say they’re needed to cut back on fraud like staged auto accidents that are causing auto insurance premiums in some areas to skyrocket.

But critics of the House measure who favor a Senate version sponsored by Stuart Republican Joe Negron say the bill is anti-consumer because it limits consumers’ choices.

“This bill is the thing of consumers’ nightmares and of insurance bigwigs’ dreams,” Bill Newton, executive director of Florida Consumer Action Network, said in a statement.

Even with Scott’s support, the House bill, passed by the House Civil Justice Committee along partisan lines this morning, is in trouble, however. Even some GOP committee members said they can’t support the measure in its current form, setting the stage for an ongoing battle between doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, insurers and attorneys.

Atwater round-up: CFO gives thanks, seeks more control over state contracts and goes after lawyers

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Times may be tough but there’s still plenty to be grateful for, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater tells Floridians in a Thanksgiving video message released today.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach banker and former Senate president, says he’s thankful for his “exciting year” as the executive in charge of the state’s checkbook and he’s appreciative of the country’s military serving overseas, who “risk their lives every day so that we can enjoy the blessings that we have been afforded: our safety, our security, the ability just to spend time with our families, our friends.”

Read about Atwater’s possible face-offs with Gov. Rick Scott over state contracting and The Florida Bar over PIP after the jump.
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Amid rising insurance fraud, PIP changes may be coming

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With car insurance fraud skyrocketing in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott cited a need Tuesday to revamp the state’s four decade old requirement that motorists carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP).

Driven in part by widespread accident fraud, auto insurance premiums have spiked by more than $900 million over the past three years, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty told Scott and the Cabinet.

McCarty blamed “fraudsters and hucksters” for much of the problem. The state’s Divison of Insurance Fraud reported Tuesday that PIP fraud referrals have more than doubled since 2007 to 6,699 this year.

Scott said it’s clear that the state’s PIP law is in need for an overhaul by lawmakers next year — with McCarty charged with coming up with proposals to put before lawmakers in coming weeks.

Motorists must carry $10,000 PIP policies. But business groups and insurance companies have long fought the requirement. PIP legislation collapsed last session in a predictable tug-of-war between insurers, consumers and medical organizations.

Scott, though, backed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, said Tuesday that changes need to be made, although neither of the officials said they knew what steps should be taken.

“Are we doing things through regulation…that is allowing fraud to happen, that normally wouldn’t happen?” Scott said.

 

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