|Date:||May 08, 2017|
|Source:||Palm Beach Post|
A chance to save Florida motorists up to $81 a car on their insurance bills — close to a collective $1 billion a year — fizzled along with attempts to bring down costs in worker’s compensation and home insurance claims as the Florida Senate failed to act before the legislative session wound toward a close in passing a budget Monday.
To driver Dick Natalizio of Palm Beach Gardens, it felt like running out of gas before the finish line.
Natalizio cheered an 89 to 29 House vote earlier this session to repeal the state’s no-fault Personal Injury Protection auto insurance system after nearly 50 years, but the bill never got to the Senate floor. He wondered who blocked it and where potential allies were in crunch time, and could not find much on the Florida insurance consumer advocate’s website about PIP since 2011, he said.
“Who is she really advocating for?” Natalizio said. “It appears she is more involved in insurance company liquidations than protecting our pocketbooks. That is the insurance consumer advocate’s job.”
State-paid insurance consumer advocate Sha’Ron James told The Palm Beach Post she is “very concerned” about increasing consumer costs and said she agrees that “meaningful reform is needed,” but stakeholders — including drivers, insurers, medical providers, attorneys and others — have not arrived at an easy consensus.
Senate President Joe Negron’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida has some of the lowest required coverage amounts in the country, yet its drivers pay among the eight highest average premiums. The state forces drivers to buy $10,000 in PIP to cover a driver or passenger’s own injuries regardless of who is at fault in an accident, no matter how much health insurance they already have from work plans, Medicare or other sources.
Florida drivers who never get in accidents still have to pay PIP rates that have climbed an average of 25 percent since the start of 2015, and the system continues to be dogged by fraud and high costs despite multiple reform attempts.
The state is one of a dwindling few still using a no-fault system and one of only two states that does not require bodily injury liability insurance to cover injuries to others. The House bill required buying bodily injury liability coverage instead, but even after the change, the average consumer stood to save about 6 percent on her overall car insurance bill, a state-paid actuarial study this past year found.
A Senate version also required $5,000 in “medical payments” coverage, to make sure drivers have at least some medical insurance at the emergency room. But House sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said that essentially renames PIP, continues to make responsible drivers effectively pay twice for medical coverage, and guts potential consumer savings.
“This is an issue I monitored very closely this legislative session and I look forward to working with the legislature in the future with the goal of passing meaningful reform that will result in cost-savings to Florida consumers,” James said.
Meanwhile, James said she was “disappointed” another bill did not pass that insurers said would hold down costs in home insurance claims such as roof and plumbing leaks.
Property insurers wanted new limits on fees for lawyers representing contractors who get consumers to sign over control of insurance payments — known as assignment of benefits, or AOB. Attorneys and contractors responded insurers could solve the problem by paying claims quickly or winning bogus cases in court, without curtailing the rights of homeowners to be represented by others.
“Florida’s hardworking families should remember this – the Florida Senate chose to side with anti-consumer special interests, instead of stepping up and protecting consumers from an AOB loophole that has attracted plaintiffs’ attorneys like gold-rush miners,” said Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, one of the groups supporting changes to the law.