PIP repeal: House panel votes to overturn no-fault plan in Florida

A drive to repeal the state’s no-fault car insurance system after nearly half a century cleared an early hurdle in a renewed run Tuesday.  Its next stop: The House floor when the 2018 session starts in January.

Rep. Grall advocates for PIP repeal in the House commerce committee Tuesday.

HB 19 sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall,  R-Vero Beach, repeals the state’s Personal Injury Protection law in place since 1971 and replaces it with required bodily-injury liability coverage, which nearly all states require and most Florida drivers already have.

The 18-7 vote offers hope to drivers who are fed up with the current system. They stand to save up to $81 per car or nearly $1 billion annually according to actuarial studies — by no longer having to pay for a form of car insurance long plagued by fraud and high costs.

“Why should they have to buy more health insurance but only for their car?” Dale Swope, president of the Florida Justice Association, said before the committee. “It makes no sense to our older drivers and veterans.”

For that matter, the same question applies to the vast majority of Florida drivers who have health insurance from employer plans or other sources.

Groups representing doctors, emergency providers and others in the medical industry voiced opposition. Whatever its problems, PIP provides  coverage providers can count on for medical expenses after accidents, said Fraser Cobbe, representing the Florida Orthopedic Society.

“We are very concerned about components of the bill,” Cobbe said, indicating he will continue to talk with sponsors about including mandatory coverage for medical payments.

But supporters of medical-payments coverage typically want everyone to be forced to buy it, not just those lacking health coverage.

Representatives of insurers including Allstate and Progressive chose not to speak but indicated opposition to the bill. Some industry groups said they want lawmakers to reform Florida’s “bad faith” laws they say drive up costs in lawsuits.

The Personal Injury Protection system is designed to provide $10,000 to cover injuries in minor  accidents regardless of who is at fault. Reform attempts in 2012 reduced  “non-emergency” benefits to $2,500 and barred acupuncture and massage, but that was followed by a spike in the percentage of claims that purported to be for emergency care.

A string of reforms have failed to prevent rising premiums for coverage that duplicates health insurance most drivers already have from Medicare or other health plans, bill supporters said.

The bill is nearly identical to legislation that passed the state House last year, 81-29.

A Senate version requiring $5,000 “medical payments” coverage, to help make sure emergency medical providers receive at least some reimbursement, did not reach a vote in the full chamber last spring. Supporters of the House bill say required “medical payments” coverage just renames PIP and wipes out most driver savings on car insurance.

Florida drivers pay among the five highest car insurance premiums in the nation, for some of the lowest required coverage amounts, a state Senate panel heard last session. Florida lets unsafe drivers avoid responsibility while safe drivers are forced to pay the bill, repeal supporters say.

Florida is one of two states that do not require bodily-injury liability coverage, Grall has pointed out.

Two dozen states have dropped no-fault systems in recent decades, leaving Florida among a dwindling number that retain them. Colorado drivers saved 35 percent on their overall car insurance premiums after dropping a no-fault system there.

Drivers like Dick Natalizio of Palm Beach have called Florida’s system a “joke” as PIP premiums have shot up an average of 25 percent since the start of 2015. Even drivers who never get in an accident are forced by state government to buy it.

“I have Medicare,” he said. “They force me to buy PIP. It’s so ridiculous.”