A Senate bill aimed at cracking down on the rampant personal injury protection insurance fraud that costs Florida drivers more than $1 billion annually in premiums is headed to the full floor for what promises to be a contentious debate for lawmakers who see this as their best last chance to reform the system.
The Senate Budget Committee approved the measure (SB 1860) on a 15-5 vote Wednesday after an hour of testimony and debate. That vote sets up a showdown with a House proposal (HB 119 ) that’s favored by Gov. Rick Scott, who has made the PIP issue one of his top priorities this session.
Scott likes the requirement in the House version that requires those hurt in a wreck to go to a hospital emergency room or hospital-owned walk-in clinic within 72 hours for personal-injury coverage to kick in. The Senate bill has no time limit on its bill and also eliminates massage therapy and acupuncture as treatment that would be covered by PIP after an accident.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said his bill balances the interests of insurance companies and medical providers without penalizing accident victims. He also thinks lawmakers are running out of patience in their annual attempts to try and fix the system.
“I think this is the last best chance to make PIP be a valuable insurance coverage for our constituents,” Negron said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Negron was more restrained than Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, who was ready to shelve the program altogether.
“What we really need to do is put this law out of its misery, shoot it,” said Simmons, a lawyer. “It’s a fundamentally flawed system.”
In some neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area and South Florida, the coverage can add several hundred dollars annually to auto insurance premiums, a cost that’s almost entirely the result of rampant fraud.
Lawmakers passed PIP coverage in 1972 to make sure anyone hurt in an automobile wreck could seek timely medical treatment. The legislation required a driver’s insurance company pay up to $10,000 to cover medical bills and lost wages after an accident — no matter who’s at fault.