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Consumers or Scammers?

3/8/2012

By: Randy Schultz

The Palm Beach Post

The 2012 Florida Legislature has been more than disappointing, but the session will end today in failure if there is no compromise on auto insurance fraud to save drivers money.

Gov. Scott jawboned legislators Thursday on what has been one of his priorities. The numbers are all there. Florida's insurance consumer advocate reported that costs for personal injury protection (PIP) claims increased 81 percent between 2008 and 2011. Scams and overbilling for these supposedly minor cases - under $10,000 - have raised premiums for all drivers.

As we saw this week in the Senate, this issue pits two of Tallahassee's most powerful special interests. Insurers want "reform" with no guarantee that they will lower rates, and trial lawyers want "reform" done with no limits on legal fees. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, watched Tuesday as his good bill got pecked apart by amendments seeking protection for lawyers and chiropractors. The House version forces victims into needless emergency room visits.

A good compromise would tighten licensing requirements for providers, especially massage therapists, who treat victims in PIP cases. A good compromise would reduce the growth of chiropractic expenses, which have doubled in such cases. That compromise would have to get past Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, a chiropractor. In an interview, Gov. Scott said he opposes any requirement that insurers lower rates. The governor believes that reform would create rate-lowering competition. We're skeptical. The governor did say that he could support a bill that limited legal fees without capping them.

Consumer advocate Robin Westcott says "fraud and unnecessary medical utilization" inflate auto insurance rates. If the Legislature can't stand up against scammers, what hope is there?