Fla. Officials Want Court to Review Judge’s Block on PIP Reforms

In an effort to keep extensive reforms of the state’s no-fault system in place, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FOIR) recently filed a challenge to a circuit court judge’s decision to once again block parts of the reform package from being implemented, at least temporarily.

The FOIR’s challenge is the latest wrinkle in a complex legal battle over the implementation of no-fault auto insurance reforms that went into effect in January.

Lewis had sided with health care groups late last month after they sought an injunction stopping the implementation of HB 119, the major legislative package that overhauled, among other things, eligibility for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits for medical treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture.

Physician groups went to court to challenge HB 119, questioning its constitutionality after acupuncture and massage therapy were among the treatments axed from the list of treatments eligible for coverage under Florida auto insurance policies.

Lewis upheld those groups’ challenge and placed an injunction on HB 119, saying its reforms were on “the outer limits of constitutional tolerance.”

The FOIR filed an appeal that put an automatic stay on the injunction, which delayed the injunction and put the coverage changes back into effect, at least temporarily.

Last week, Lewis responded by lifting the stay on the injunction, effectively blocking the reforms once more. Lewis said his decision was to “prevent the potential harm to citizens injured in automobile accidents who, under the PIP statute, may not receive necessary care.”

The FOIR filed the ensuing court challenge on April 19, calling Lewis’s decision an “extraordinary step.”

HB 119 supporters in the state Legislature and auto insurance industry have lamented challenges to its implementation. Gov. Rick Scott signed off on the measure last summer, with most major reforms going into effect at the beginning of this year.

In its latest appeal, FOIR said such challenges prolong volatility in the car coverage market that HB 119 was meant to address.

“The court should reverse the stay order, thereby reinstating the automatic stay to maintain the status quo pending appeal and to avoid continued disruption and uncertainty in Florida’s insurance market,” the office wrote.

Governor Promises Continuing ‘Fight’ to Implement Reforms

Senators in the Banking and Insurance Committee passed a comprehensive redo of the car insurance system earlier this month that would trade the state’s long-running PIP requirements for a mandatory liability system relying on bodily injury liability coverage.

But even the bill’s sponsor acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding HB 119’s court proceedings, which he said could be a major obstacle to further discussions of reforms.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott has vowed to battle any court decisions reversing reforms put in place by HB 119.

“Our reforms are working to lower insurance costs for Florida families and we will continue to fight special interest groups to keep them in place,” Scott said in a statement after Lewis’s first decision to back the injunction in March.

Health care providers fared worse in federal court when they tried to stop the reforms, with U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara denying an injunction they sought against HB 119 late last year.

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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