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Politics

Late-Night Negotiations Expected over Salvaging PIP Reform

March 6, 2012 - 6:00pm

Senators anticipate Gov. Rick Scotts desire to reform the states supposed low-cost auto insurance program will require late-night negotiations with theirHouse counterparts.

And with two days left in the regular session, some are bracing for a call back to Tallahassee because the differences in the House and Senate version of the efforts to remove fraud from the personal injury protection auto insurance program may not be resolved by Friday.

A day after several confusing debates over more than 30 amendments, some crafted on the floor, senators unanimously voted on Wednesday to send their version of the PIP reform bill, SB 1860, to the House.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the sponsor of SB 1860, acknowledged the governor has favored the House effort on most issues, but said talks with the governors office have indicated there is a lot of room for common ground.

I think all along the governor ... generally has been on the House side, Negron said. That being said, the governor is practical and wants to reach an agreement.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, doesnt expect the House to be very open to the Senates plan. He added that if the final bill doesn't go far enough in addressing attorneys' fees and how clinics can operate to target fraud, he wouldnt have a problem with Scott vetoing the effort and calling legislators back for a special session.

Look, PIP is a big issue, Thrasher said. If we leave here without doing a good PIP bill, we have not served our constituents well and I think that is why the governor has given it such great emphasis.

He believes that its important, he believes it is a hidden tax on the backs of our consumers. Weve gone way too long in not addressing it.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the sponsor of the House version of the reform bill, HB 119, said lawmakers will have to spend time reviewing exactly what the Senate sent over.

"I dont know exactly whats in their bill, said Boyd. We need to evaluate whats in their bill, understand it, and make our decisions: Are there provisions we can live with? Are there provisions that we cant?

Negrons bill tightens procedures for licensing medical clinics and authorizing who can provide treatment andrequires long-form incident reports as a way to root out staged accidents. It updates the bill-payment system and gives hospitals priority standing in personal injury protection claims.

Senators have added an amendment Negron sought --to require those involved in a crash to seek medical help within two weeks.

The House bill, HB 119, requires those injured in auto accidents to get treatment in an emergency room within 72 hours or with the medical provider of their choice if the cost is under $1,500. It also caps attorneys' fees in both individual and class-action disputes and allows insurance companies to examine policyholders under oath when investigating claims.

The Senate allows chiropractors to perform some treatment, and both chambers prohibit massage therapy and acupuncture as covered treatment.

Legislators have said if no compromise can be reached this session, or if the reform failed, legislators in the next session should consider replacing PIP with a bodily injury policy and liability auto insurance.

Bodily injury protection typically has higher coverage limits, which would be expected to including higher premiums.

As Tuesdays debate raged, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll went on the Senate floor, spiriting a number of senators into a private room known as the bubble for individual conversations.

Meanwhile, Scott continued his public push for auto insurance reform during radio interviews and when meeting Tuesday night with reporters outside the Capitol.

"Look. This is something we can fix. It's something the state created and it's something we ought to fix," Scott told reporters.

Noting that PIP has resulted in more than a $1 billion increase inpremiums across the state, he said failure to approve the bill would be the equivalent of raising taxes by that much.

Its complete fraud that you as a consumer pay, Scott said during an interview on 92.5 FM in Fort Myers on Tuesday morning.

The poorest person in our state pays a higher percentage of their income for this than anybody else because they have to have their auto insurance to drive their car to get to work.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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