Politics

No-Fault Insurance Reform Poised for House Vote

By: Michael Peltier News Service of Florida | Posted: March 2, 2012 3:55 AM

The House took up its proposal to revamp Florida's no-fault auto insurance market on Thursday, setting the stage for an upcoming showdown with a dissimilar Senate proposal over how to lower costs.

Following a flurry of amendments that made relatively minor changes, the House gave preliminary approval to HB 119, which backers say is needed to reduce fraud in an industry that is costing policyholders $1 billion a year in additional premiums.

A day after a Senate committee approved a much more targeted bill, the House sponsor said he's confident the divergent proposals can be forged into a compromise measure both chambers can support.

"I think we're in a good spot now to negotiate," said Rep Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. "I'd like to think ours is a good bill, and it is, but my goal and that of Senator (Garrett) Richter is to get something at the end of the day that gets to the problem."

The House plan takes a broader approach by placing caps on attorney fees and funnels more patients through emergency rooms for immediate care. The bill also caps private physician payouts.

On Wednesday, the Senate Budget Committee passed that chamber's effort, SB 1860, stripped of several recent amendments that would have restricted the number of doctor visits and other provisions that some say are critical to curbing costs.

"It's going to be a heavy lift in the Senate," said Richter, R-Naples, and chairman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

Richter said he favors the House approach, which addresses a number of issues such as attorney fees not contained in a Senate plan that focuses primarily on clamping down on clinic fraud and clarifying legal definitions that have fostered lawsuits since the law underwent its last major change in 2007.

The bill comes up for final passage in the House on Friday. The Senate version has not yet been scheduled for the floor.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos said on Thursday, however, that the Legislature should be able to pass a bill.

"I want to finish the PIP bill during regular session," said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. Asked whether the Senate might go along with the House proposal to put some caps on legal fees in PIP-related cases, Haridopolos said, possibly.

"It's one of the ideas we've been discussing," Haridopolos said.

Changes to the system are a top priority for Gov. Rick Scott.

RELATED: Negron calls session 'last chance for PIP reform.'

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