Fla. Committee Votes in Favor of PIP Auto Insurance Repeal

Senators in a Florida legislative committee unanimously voted Tuesday for a bill swapping the state’s personal injury protection (PIP) requirements for a bodily injury-based (BI) car coverage system.

The 10-0 vote marks another chapter in a long-running debate over how the state should deal with rising costs within its auto insurance system. PIP coverage is required under Florida no-fault laws, which currently compensate drivers for crash-related medical expenses up to $10,000 for emergency conditions and $2,500 for nonemergency conditions. The compensation is dispensed to a policyholder by his or her own insurer, no matter who was at fault for the crash.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee began discussion about the bill, SPB 7152, at the beginning of this month before delaying a vote on it last week.

Bodily injury liability established under the bill would require a motorist injured in a crash to file claims with the other motorist’s insurer to obtain compensation for medical expenses. Supporters of the bill said it addresses rampant abuse of the PIP system, which has been vulnerable to staged accidents and inflated medical claims that are blamed for higher overall costs of auto insurance in Florida.

Insurers offering public testimony at committee hearings said they were receptive to the bill but stopped short of full-on support because of snags over last year’s extensive legislative PIP reforms.

Insurers Nod to ‘Another Step’; Massage Therapy Group Requests Inclusion

Leiah Carr, president for Florida State Massage Therapy Association (FSMTA), offered the sole piece of public testimony on SPB 7152 at the latest committee meeting.

Carr asked that senators restore massage therapy as a PIP-eligible medical treatment. The reform package, HB 119, was passsed last summer and nixed massage therapy and acupuncture from the list of treatments qualifying for PIP payments.

Physician groups representing those occupations filed suit that eventually won an injunctive stay on reforms from a circuit court judge before the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation filed an appeal that is currently under review.

Insurers lamented what they said were complications brought on by the court case. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), a national trade organization, said that it had wanted to see the full effect of HB 119, major parts of which took effect on Jan. 1, 2013, but reforms were “severly undermined” by the courts.

“With Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system currently hamstrung in its ability to combat the fraud and abuse plaguing Florida’s drivers, PCI and its member companies continue to support dialogue to properly address Florida’s auto insurance issue,” PCI said in a statement.

Commenting on the Tuesday vote, PCI only said that the “action by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee was another step forward in that process.”

According to Carr, major studies “have proven that massage therapy helps people heal more rapidly at lower cost with no negative side effects.”

“Massage therapy is a valid, standalone medical modality in the treatment of soft tissue injuries,” she said during the committee hearing. “[The] current law has completely removed this valid treatment option from all Floridians.”

Injured motorists deserve options when seeking treatment, according to Carr.

“It is a safe, clinically proven treatment and it is an alternative to prescribing addictive pain medications, which we know is currently a rampant problem in our society … as opposed to treating the root cause of the pain and injury,” she said.

Carr said that senators also had a duty to represent the interests the FSMTA, which counts among its members more than 36,000 licensed massage therapists. The FSMTA, according to Carr, has more than 11,400 small business owners and sole practitioners of massage therapy.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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