Drive to ditch no-fault insurance slowed in Senate

Published On: Apr 09 2013 09:46:21 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

A drive to scrap the state's no-fault auto insurance system was shifted into neutral, for at least a week in the Senate.

The delay comes as Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, proponents of last year's effort to remove fraud from the state's decades-old Personal Injury Protection (PIP) auto insurance system, have made public overtures that they'd prefer giving the 2012 reforms a chance to take hold.

Still, Senate Banking and Insurance Chairman David Simmons, R-Maitland, maintains his belief that if lawmakers would agree to set bodily injury coverage as the new bargain basement system, premium prices for most Florida drivers would come down.

He noted that the state Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that more than 70 percent of motorists already have some bodily injury coverage.

But Simmons was greeted with silence Tuesday from members of his committee when he asked if they wanted to debate a proposal (SB 7152) to scrap PIP. Simmons requested a delay so he could discuss the proposal with Scott and Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, who chairs the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

"This has happened pretty swiftly and it's very important for us to do this, under the circumstance, in a very deliberate approach," Simmons said.

Simmons attributed the silence by his committee to an understanding by members that change is needed.

"There are those who want to see how things develop over the next couple of weeks," Simmons said. "I think it's important for us to put it off a week so we can make sure everyone who has something to say about this issue has a chance to say it."

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, declined a request by Simmons to comment on the proposal that would toss the 2012 PIP law that he a primarily authored.

"I'm busy working on the budget," said Negron, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

According to OIR, of 135 policy filings sought since the 2012 law went into effect, 52 percent have seen a decrease in rates. About 28 percent have shown an increase.

The push to replace the PIP system has been rushed since a ruling in March by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who sided with chiropractors and massage therapists in a challenge to parts of the law.

The state has appealed the ruling.

Scott and Atwater have told the media they'd prefer to give the 2012 law a chance.

Simmons said he'd prefer to discuss the matter directly with Scott.

Meanwhile, insurance companies have indicated they are "warming" to the proposed change by Simmons, but would prefer to see the state's entire offer before lending support.

"Too often in the past proposed no-fault reform legislation has promised to address fraud and abuse, but was watered down through the legislative process and nullified by the courts," said Bonnie Gordon, senior counsel for GEICO Insurance.

Another reason for some growing support of the change is that the federal Affordable Care Act, which fully takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, is expected to cover much of what is offered through PIP.

However, Sandra Starnes, who is the Office of Insurance Regulation's director of property and casualty, product review, said that the ACA doesn't include the lost wages and death benefits, along with some protections that could be offered to seniors, which are now available under PIP.

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