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Sarasota Herald Tribune: Senate’s PIP bill better

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guest: Senate’s PIP bill better

By Bill Newton

Several bills designed to reform our state’s Personal Injury Protection system are working their way through the legislative process. While everyone agrees reforms are necessary to help safeguard against fraud, as with all issues, there are several points of view on PIP reform.

As executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network and a board member of consumer groups, I have spent considerable time and effort on PIP legislation.

We are now looking at two PIP reform bills.

One, the insurance industry-driven HB 119 by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is supported by Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The bill has been trumpeted as the solution to PIP fraud and a panacea for driving down auto insurance premiums.

In my view, it will do little or nothing about fraud, and mainly limits consumer choices.

The real motivation behind this bill is to make it easier for insurance companies to delay or deny PIP payments and improve their profit margins. The provisions in the House proposal are essentially an insurance industry wish list and a chance to execute a political vendetta against trial lawyers.

Boyd’s bill would not only require an auto accident victim to seek initial treatment in the most expensive and overcrowded place — the hospital emergency room — within 72 hours of an accident, but that same auto accident victim must be diagnosed with the ambiguously defined “emergency medical condition” with injuries of “sufficient severity” that “could be expected to result in … serious impairment to bodily functions.”

While subsequent care is allowed, Boyd’s bill has eliminated an injured driver’s ability to seek any chiropractic care or massage therapy. And, if the subsequent care is not directly related to the initial medical diagnosis (you get a later injury), the victim can’t seek that treatment either.

Who pays for the care if it doesn’t meet the “sufficient severity” standard of the auto insurer? Expect health insurance rates to rise because it will be expected to pick up the tab for what the auto insurer denies.

SB 1860, filed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, is more consumer-friendly. It offers sensible and enforceable reform. With support from a range of interests including insurers, lawyers, medical providers and consumers, the Senate PIP reform proposal contains a commonsense approach to combating fraud while protecting Florida consumers’ interests and rights.

Not only does it crack down on perpetrators through harsher penalties, but it better regulates medical providers treating those injured in an auto accident and gives law enforcement the tools it needs to address PIP fraud.

Negron’s bill does not limit a patient’s access to care, and does not require the accident victim to wait in the hospital emergency room after an automobile accident.

FCAN urges the Legislature to get tough on these white-collar criminals and pass Negron’s bill. But, let’s get tough on criminals, not consumers.

Bill Newton is executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network

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