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Senate Votes to Extend State's No-Fault Law

Mar 27, 2007

By Jennifer Sorentrue, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Mar. 28--Florida's no-fault auto insurance system, set to expire in six months, would remain in place under a plan a state Senate committee approved Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance voted unanimously to extend Florida's no-fault law, which provides a minimum of $10,000 worth of medical coverage, known as personal injury protection, or PIP, to those injured in auto accidents.

The law, which will expire Oct. 1 unless lawmakers vote to extend it, also provides lost-wage coverage for those who miss work because of an accident.

Under the bill (SB 1880) approved Tuesday, the law would be reenacted for one more year and could be repealed again on Jan. 1, 2009.

"I think if we eliminate PIP, the consumers of this state will suffer," said Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, who sponsored the bill.

"It's a very rare time when we will have the hospitals, chiropractors, trial lawyers, three-quarters of the insurance companies and the medical association all opposing the same bill," Posey said. "I think that sends a message that we must be doing something right." State Farm and AllState, Florida's two largest auto insurers, oppose the renewal of the law, while the health industry generally supports it. But doctors and hospitals oppose a proposed change in the law that would create a fee schedule for them, while insurers support that proposed change.

State Farm says the repeal of no-fault would save Florida drivers hundreds of dollars each year on their auto insurance.

In February, State Farm announced it would reduce rates statewide by an average of 16 percent if the law were eliminated. The average motorist would save $180 a year per insured vehicle, according to the insurer.

The bill also would change the law by creating a fee schedule for doctors, health care providers and medical facilities that treat injuries covered by no-fault policies.

Health care providers argue the fee schedule would reduce access to health care because many doctors won't accept the no-fault coverage.

Hospital representatives say they have no choice but to take emergency patients, and may be forced to accept whatever the insurance company will pay them, even if it's at a huge discount.

Emergency facilities have asked to be exempt from the fee schedule.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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