Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said this week he was “pretty close” to calling a special legislative session to seek renewal of the state’s no-fault automobile insurance system, which is set to expire Oct. 1.
Insurance companies have been pushing to let get rid of the state’s requirement for motorists to purchase $10,000 in personal injury protection coverage. They argue the system is so filled with fraud and abuse that it cannot be fixed.
Hospitals, though, have been campaigning to keep the requirement, saying either they or innocent accident victims who lack health insurance will be stuck with their medical bills.
“I favor the continuation of personal injury protection,” Crist said, but offered no specifics on when he would make the decision on the special session.
Although he has the power to call the session on his own, the governor said he wants to consult with House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. The two legislative leaders also have the authority to call a special session.
“It’s important to people in terms of health care,” Crist said. “It’s important to me.”
Crist said he also is leaning toward including an expansion of the state’s KidKare health insurance program for children to any special session.
Lawmakers failed to act on either issue during their regular 2007 session that ended May 4 and neither were considered during a special session this month on property tax relief. Crist and legislative leaders agreed they didn’t want the Legislature distracted by other issues during the property tax session.
The existing auto insurance law enables injured motorists to receive up to $10,000 in medical treatment regardless of who is at fault through the mandatory coverage. Motorists cannot legally obtain license plates without it.
Without that coverage, victims would have to obtain compensation from at-fault drivers but may have to sue them and their insurance companies, if they have insurance, to seek reimbursement.
Accident victims also can rely on their health insurance, but hospital officials are worried because about 25 percent of Floridians under 65, which is when Medicare kicks in, lack such coverage. They say hospitals may have to cut services if they lose too much money treating uninsured accident victims.
Past legislation introduced to renew no-fault has included provisions designed to reduce fraud, but insurers contend it is so pervasive the system should just be scrapped.
State Farm, Florida’s biggest auto insurer, has led the charge, saying fraud costs the company and policyholders millions of dollars. The insurer already has filed paperwork with state regulators to cut rates an average of 16 percent if the requirement expires.