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Lawmakers Give Old Auto Law New Spin

Mar 27, 2007

By Jennifer Liberto, St. Petersburg Times, Fla.

Mar. 28--TALLAHASSEE -- A Senate insurance committee on Tuesday took the Legislature's first major stab at rewriting the state's mandatory automobile insurance laws.

In so doing, the members unanimously passed a bill that manages to irritate just about everybody: doctors, hospitals, lawyers and most auto insurance companies.

The state's "no-fault law," also known as personal injury protection, is scheduled to vanish on Oct. 1. That law requires all Florida motorists to carry $10,000 worth of auto insurance coverage to pay the health care costs for injuries in any wreck, no matter who caused it.

Proponents of the no-fault law say it keeps minor crashes from clogging the courts and ensures timely payment, especially for those who don't have any health care coverage. Opponents say it already leads to lawsuits, is prone to fraud and forces those who already have health insurance to pay for duplicative coverage.

Insurance chairman Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, on Tuesday revealed the first major revision, which would allow mandatory no-fault coverage to survive until Jan. 1, 2009. It also caps the amount automobile insurers would have to pay in car crashes to no more than 200 percent what an insurer must pay, by law, for Medicare or workers' compensation claims.

Trial lawyers, hospitals and doctors don't like the caps. Insurers don't like that the bill extends the no-fault law. All complained about the lack of antifraud measures, but Posey assured other legislation will tackle fraud.

One of the biggest opponents to the bill, so far, is the state's largest private automobile insurer, State Farm, which has filed a rate reduction with state insurance regulators, assuming that the no-fault law would disappear in October.

State Farm lobbyist Mark Delegal told the committee that his company could give policyholders $360 a year in savings if no-fault disappears.

Posey offered to tear his bill up and let no-fault disappear if State Farm could promise in a written letter to reduce its customers' bills by $360 for every insured car and guarantee that savings for the next 10 years "They haven't been able to do that," Posey said.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, voted for the bill, saying they hoped to rework it in other committees that they lead.

There is no House companion bill, but a House committee has scheduled a workshop on the issue for Thursday.

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