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Coalition Urges Lawmakers to Address No-Fault Law: Lawmakers Are Being Bombarded With Demands From Healthcare Providers and Others to Fix the State's No-Fault Auto Law Before It Expires

Aug 16, 2007

By Beatrice E. Garcia, The Miami Herald

Aug. 17--As the expiration of Florida's controversial no-fault auto insurance law nears and no acceptable replacement has been put forth, a new coalition of 37 healthcare providers, first-responders, health insurers and some auto insurers is urging lawmakers to take action.

The group, called the Coalition to Protect Florida's Drivers, is petitioning Gov. Charlie Crist, Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio to address the auto insurance problem during the legislative special session on the budget next month.

Now, Florida drivers are required to buy at least $10,000 in coverage for personal injury protection, which pays medical bills from an auto accident, and $10,000 in property damage protection.

The coalition members as well as some state officials, including Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles believe that drivers won't be required to carry any form of insurance to register a car in Florida once the no-fault law expires Oct. 1.

"Simply allowing the system to die Oct. 1 without any form of mandatory coverage is a prescription for disaster for all Floridians," said Wayne NeSmith, president of the Florida Hospital Association, which is part of the coalition.

The coalition also includes Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the state's largest health insurer, which expects health insurance rates to increase to cover new claims from auto accidents. The healthcare community fears that the 20 percent of drivers who have no health coverage other than PIP could end up on hospitals' and doctors' doorsteps without means to pay for care.

"With this reversal of consumer protections, Florida would enter an era of having one of the weakest auto insurance plans in the country," said Michael Johnston, Southeast region president for Gainsco Auto Insurance, a Texas-based company that sells nonstandard coverage. A trade group of agents and insurers in the nonstandard market, which serves younger inexperienced drivers or some with spotty driving records, is also urging legislators to extend the no-fault law.

However, some insurers and attorneys contend drivers will save money if the PIP requirement is eliminated. State Farm, Allstate and AIG have said they will lower rates once the law expires.

Crist said earlier this week he wasn't "optimistic" the Legislature would take up a PIP bill during the September special session, even though he would like to keep no-fault insurance alive.

The Department of Financial Services on its website, www.fldfs.com, provides consumers with some guidance about reviewing their auto insurance coverage.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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