Florida Senate’s Car Insurance Reform Measure Stays Alive

The Florida Budget Committee voted 15-5 on Wednesday afternoon to keep alive a bill that aims to reform parts of the state’s auto insurance system.

Sen. Joe Negron, who authored SB 1860, said the following are the major changes that would be brought by the bill:

  • Personal injury protection (PIP) benefits for massage and acupuncture therapy would be eliminated.
  • Insurers would be required to repay medicaid within 30 days of being notified that the insurer owed the state system money.
  • Police would be required to provide long-form crash reports more frequently to reduce the occurrence of “jump-ins.”
  • All entities eligible for receiving PIP benefits would need to be licensed or owned by a licensed practitioner.
  • A nonprofit organization would be established to fund state offices with programs aimed at preventing, investigating and prosecuting automobile insurance fraud. The organization would be financed by private entities.

florida state capitol buildingTough Road Ahead for SB 1860

Proponents of the Senate measure may have a tough time getting their bill into law. Members of the public and some Committee members on Wednesday said the bill went too far and could hurt licensed massage therapists and acupuncturists as well as severely reduce policyholders’ access to those services.

“I wanted to clean up PIP too,” said Committee member Sen. Mike Bennett, “but what we’re doing here is absolutely wrong.”

Sen. Bennett had authored a handful of rejected amendments that would have kept limited massage treatments covered under PIP policies.

The bill should now be on its way for a vote from the full Senate in the last days of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, the House is set to vote on HB 119, which includes some of the principles embodied in the Senate reform measure but goes much further.

It does away with PIP entirely and replaces it with a novel type of policy, medical care coverage (MCC), that would reimburse hospitals only for transport of victims and treatment of emergency medical conditions that were diagnosed within 72 hours of an accident.

The competing bills could prove difficult to reconcile, especially in light of the fact that a handful of Budget Committee members expressed serious concern with a proposed but ultimately rejected amendment to limit the claim window to 14 days after an accident.

Debate over Massage and Acupuncture

The bill was nearly, as one senator put it, “talked to death” during Tuesday’s Budget Committee meeting by significant debate over whether acupuncture and massage therapy should be totally excluded from PIP coverage or just limited.

Committee members offered up amendments to keep massage and acupuncture practitioners included, but on a limited basis.

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff proposed an amendment that would have “severely” reduced the amount of acupuncture therapy that PIP policies could cover and include only those practitioners who have higher levels of training.

Sen. Bogdanoff cited statistics saying that in a given year only about $2.31 million of the $1.1 billion that insurers spend on car crash claims go to pay for acupuncturist services.

She argued that barring reimbursement for a service that accounts for less than 0.03 percent of total claims costs would not help eliminate fraud an make affordable car insurance more widely available but would instead only eliminate “an alternative form of medical care that many people find effective.”

The amendment ultimately died, as did a handful of amendments put on the table by Sen. Bennett to limit massage treatments to eight a month and extend coverage only to treatments specifically prescribed by a physician.

Sen. Negron opposed these amendments, saying massage’s and acupuncture’s links to effective treatment of emergency medical conditions were “tenuous,” although a handful of members voiced disagreement with that sentiment.

“I just think we ought to be spending our money on something that’s a little more closely related to an emergency situation,” Negron said.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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