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Scott to Sign PIP Reform Law ‘Very Soon’

By Jim Turner | Posted: March 12, 2012

Gov. Rick Scott made a quick visit to the Senate floor late Friday after a bill to revamp personal injury protection auto insurance was sent to his desk.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who along with Scott has been pushing to reduce fraud in the supposedly low-income system, expected the governor to quickly sign the bill as the final compromised effort leans heavier on the heavier on the Senate’s proposals. “Oh yes, I believe (the signing) will be very soon,” Atwater said outside the Senate Chambers Friday night. 

In a statement, Scott called the passage of the bill “a triumphant moment for the residents of Florida.”

Senators narrowly approved the bill, HD 119, that did require some backroom arm twisting and late-night compromises with the House that a number of legislators still believe could be made stronger if the Legislature were instead called back for special session on the topic.

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, called the initial Senate bill, prior to a late Thursday night compromise, went after the “hucksters.”  He added that the House did some “voodoo” on the Senate and sent back a bill that is a “relief act” for insurance companies.

“This will have repercussions for people that are seriously hurt,” Jones said.

Sen Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the initial Senate bill, prior to a late Thursday night House compromise, went after the “hucksters.” He added that the House did some “voodoo” on the Senate and sent back a bill that is a “relief act” for insurance companies.

While Scott favored the House bill, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, argued that “the Senate won the majority of these arguments.”

In the deal, the House agreed to the Senate’s call for long-form accident reports, no caps on attorney fees, giving people two weeks instead of one to seek medical help, allowing chiropractors to treat patients, and imposing a prohibition on allowing massage therapists and acupuncturists to be eligible for PIP claims.

The Senate agreed to the House positions that gave insurers 90 days, instead of 30, to pay claims and included a prohibition on contingency-fee multipliers in determining attorney fees.

The bill would also establish an organization within the Division of Insurance Fraud to combat motor vehicle insurance fraud.

Health-care practitioners found guilty of insurance fraud would have their licenses revoked for five years and banned from seeking PIP reimbursement for a decade.

Another amendment added Friday requires the Office of Insurance Regulation to hire an independent consultant by September to calculate the savings expected from the act.

Within six months we expect to have a 10 percent reduction in premiums, not 10 percent or less, but a minimum of 10 percent; it could be more, Negron said. And then, within 18 months, to have a 25 percent reduction in premiums.

Insurance companies that fail to reach those marks would have to get approval from the state insurance commissioner to continue to sell PIP insurance, he said.

Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large hailed the approval of the bill.

"Today, the Florida Legislature ended the practice of exponentially increasing litigation costs associated with PIP by removing the use of attorney fee multipliers, which benefited attorneys at the expense of consumers, Large stated in a release.

Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Jack McDermott commended the legislators for backing the bill.

The Florida Legislature, along with Governor Scott and CFO Atwater, clearly recognize that it is critical that we change the incentives in the system to reduce PIP fraud, McDermott stated in a release.

Law enforcement officers were also pleased.

As an organization fighting criminal fraud on the front lines of Florida, we are pleased with the Legislature's actions tonight, Sheriff Ben Johnson, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, stated in a release through the Put the Brakes on Accident Fraud Coalition.

On behalf of all Florida drivers and business advocates, we join our friends in the law enforcement community in congratulating all consumers on their win tonight, said.

Two of the states biggest business advocates, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, also cheered the bill in a release.

Florida drivers have consistently asked for legislation that addressed the cost drivers and rampant fraud in Floridas PIP system; and with not a day to spare, the Florida Legislature delivered a bill that has the potential to bring measurable relief, stated David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber.

Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, added that, Florida consumers and our law enforcement community have been plagued by a billion-dollar accident fraud problem; and tonight, the Florida Legislature heard their calls for help and delivered meaningful relief.

Still, for some legislators, the compromise went too far or didn't do enough.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, said the Senate gives in to the House too much by accepting the prohibition on multipliers.

In the House, where the bill was approved 80-34, Rep. Darren Soto, R-Orlando, argued that PIP has become like Frankensteins monster, can’t be fixed and should be replaced by bodily injury insurance.

PIP is an abomination -- its turned on us, Soto said. Backers of the bill in the Senate and House were able to reach consensus on the differing positions of bills approved by both chambers early Friday.

Scott, who worked behind the scenes and publicly pushed for the revamping of the no-fault coverage, spent Friday morning crisscrossing the states airwaves -- calling from the governors mansion in Tallahassee -- as part of a last-day push.

Theres no reason it can’t get done today, Scott told 540 AM WFLA in Orlando.

On 1260 AM WFTW in Fort Walton Beach he expressed optimism that compromises would be found in the House and Senate bills.

Scott also called in to stations in Tallahassee, Tampa, Naples, Melbourne and Miami before legislators hit the floor to begin the final day of the regular session. 
Scott also told 540 AM WFLA that he has been spending his week focused on PIP reform and has yet to go through the 3,000 lines of the state budget to consider vetoes.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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