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Crist: PIP Session is Possible: Gov. Crist Said a Special Session to Discuss the State's No-Fault Auto Insurance Law is Possible, but That He Isn't Sure When It Would Occur

Jun 27, 2007

By Mary Ellen Klas, The Miami Herald

Jun. 28--TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he "would be in favor of a special session" on auto insurance to be called before Florida's no-fault law expires on Oct. 1 but he wouldn't commit to how soon the session might be.

Because Florida lawmakers have failed to renew the law, it will expire in October, leaving thousands of drivers free to carry no insurance at all.

Crist acknowledged that because many drivers may see their insurance policies come up for renewal before October and rates adjusted because of the law, a session should be called "sooner rather than later."

Crist said, however, that he "doesn't know whether he will call one soon or not" because he intends to first consult with House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt "and get their wisdom on what the timing should be." He said a special session is not a certainty but believes he is "pretty close."

'IMPORTANT TO ME'

"I favor the continuation of personal injury protection," Crist said. "It's important to hospitals. It's important to me."

The Florida Hospital Association joined a group of healthcare entities when it asked Crist on Tuesday to call lawmakers into special session to renew the law.

A resolution of the association's board of trustees notes that "40 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 the no-fault insurance known as PIP.

If the law is allowed to expire, the hospitals warn, "Florida could be, on Oct. 1, the only state in the nation with no mandatory automobile insurance coverage."

Insurance agents such as the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies as well as many lawyers, doctors and clinic owners are on the same page as the hospitals: The benefits provided in the current no-fault law outweigh its negative aspects, primarily fraud. These supporters believe that more resources should be devoted to fighting auto-insurance related fraud, rather than eliminating the law.

However, not all groups hold the same view.

INSURERS LOBBY

Floridians for Lower Insurance Costs, a consumer group that's supported primarily by major insurers including State Farm and Allstate Floridian, would prefer to see the no-fault law expire as it's now planned.

"We need to be sure that everyone, including lawmakers, are aware of the implications of extending PIP," said Alison Jones, a spokeswoman for this group. "Lawmakers have tried to reform [the no-fault law] several times before and have been unable to do it."

Crist said that if they have a special session there is a good chance that a plan to expand Kidcare, the state-run insurance program for low-income kids, will be on the agenda as well.

Miami Herald business writer Beatrice E. Garcia contributed to this report.

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