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Hospitals Want Extension of No-Fault Law Required Personal Injury Protection Auto Insurance Will Expire on Oct. 1.

Jun 26, 2007

By URVAKSH KARKARIA

A hospital lobbying group asked Gov. Charlie Crist Tuesday to call a special legislative session to hash out the future of no- fault automobile insurance before the state law sunsets Oct. 1. Rather than drag out the law, state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, would like to see it replaced.

The Florida No-Fault law requires drivers to purchase personal injury protection, which pays up to a maximum of $10,000, regardless of fault, for injuries caused in an automobile crash. Hospitals rely on the mandatory medical coverage provided by auto insurers to help pay for care provided to accident victims, especially those without health insurance.

In the special session, the Florida Hospital Association would like lawmakers to agree to extend or reform the No-Fault law, or replace it with some other form of mandatory medical coverage.

Without PIP dollars, hospitals say, they would be forced to shift some of the costs of treating uninsured accident victims to public and private health insurers, who would then pass it on to their customers through higher premiums, and out-of-pocket costs.

The auto insurance industry, however, wants to get rid of PIP, saying it forces drivers to buy extra health insurance coverage they don't need. They also point to claims fraud under the PIP system.

The "governor is sympathetic to [the FHA's] concerns," a Crist spokeswoman said. But, she added, no date for a special session on the No-Fault law has been set.

The chances of a special session on PIP taking place is "50-50," King said. Extending PIP was hotly debated in the spring legislative session, but lawmakers failed to come to an agreement. The issue was expected to be considered in the June special session, but never made it onto the agenda.

"There are a lot of legislators who would just as soon see PIP go away," King said. "We've tried to fix it time after time. We recognize ... that there are lots of people who take advantage of the law, and so far we've not been able to ... appropriate [funds] to hire enough enforcement people to make a real difference."

King said he favors ending PIP but wants it replaced with some other kind of mandatory medical coverage.

PIP's expiration could also mean the end of mandatory auto insurance, warned Rich Rasmussen, spokesman with the Florida Hospital Association, which represents 170 hospitals.

If the PIP law is allowed to sunset, Florida motorists who are considered "safe drivers" will not be required to buy auto insurance, said Julie Baker, spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. A safe driver is a motorist who has had no driving convictions (such as speeding fines) in the past three years, or had his license revoked or suspended in the past seven years.

The highway safety department's position "changes the dynamics of this debate," Rasmussen said about PIP's extension.

"Not only is it about the impact on hospitals, but [about] the overall health of our community," he said. "Do we want to be the only state in the nation that allows anybody to get behind the wheel without [auto insurance]?"

Area hospitals could lose millions in reimbursements if the PIP law expired. Shands Jacksonville received about $14 million last year in PIP payments to provide mostly emergency care to vehicle accident patients, while Baptist Health received about $5.5 million from PIP last year.

If PIP sunsets Oct. 1, St. Augustine-based Flagler Hospital expects to lose $2 million in uncompensated care to accident victims who have no health insurance, said Peter Bacon, director of strategic planning.

"A special session to address PIP is probably unlikely," Bacon said. "Even if it were convened, we would not be overly optimistic for an outcome different than what was accomplished in the regular session."

Hospitals aren't the only ones cheering for PIP's continuation. Health insurance companies also want it to stick around, because without it they would face increased exposure to medical claims and likely have to raise already-rocketing premiums.

Critics of the PIP system, however, say it is plagued with fraud and allows hospitals and other medical providers to overbill auto insurance carriers.

The auto insurance industry also claims PIP forces drivers to buy health insurance coverage they don't need. Some carriers are promising customers triple digit savings, if the law were to go away. State Farm Florida said its auto insurance customers will save an average of $360 annually per two-car household once the law ends.urvaksh.karkaria@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4367WHAT IS PIP?The Florida No-Fault law requires drivers to purchase Personal Injury Protection, which pays up to a maximum of $10,000, regardless of fault, for injuries caused in an automobile crash. Hospitals rely on the mandatory medical coverage provided by auto insurers to help pay for care provided to accident victims, especially those without health insurance. Forty percent of all patients treated for motor vehicle crashes in Florida's hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers have no health insurance coverage to pay for necessary medical care other than PIP, according to the Florida Hospital Association.Florida hospitals received more than $350 million in PIP money last year, the hospital association noted.

(c) 2007 Florida Times Union. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.



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