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Insurance Deadline Looms: Personal-Injury Policy Coverage Ends Oct. 1

Sep 21, 2007

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Sep. 22--A Keys insurance agent says debate over changes to Florida auto-insurance policies amounts to "the shell game they play in Tallahassee."

Monroe County's state representative, who will vote on the measure, likened the process to "a special-interest food fight."

The state's 36-year history with no-fault auto insurance will come to a halt Oct. 1, and no one knows what - if anything - will replace it.

"It looks like they're coming closer to a compromise but no one knows exactly [what will be proposed] because it's happening in a bunch of secret meetings," said state Rep. Ron Saunders, a Democrat who represents the Keys.

Saunders said he stands ready to "support pretty much anything" that will extend Florida's requirement for personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage.

"I don't like the way this is happening," Saunders said Friday. "The Legislature had a chance to get something passed in the regular [spring] session but didn't. Now we're at the deadline and everybody is in a crisis mode."

Legislators will be called to a special session Oct. 3 to 12 to discuss changes to the Florida budget. The insurance issue could be added to the agenda.

The requirement that Florida drivers carry PIP coverage ends before then.

"Even if they decide to extend [the requirement], I worry about what will happen in the gap," Saunders said. "The only reason a lot of people carry PIP is that it's required. On Oct. 1, it will no longer be required, and they could cancel their policies."

Regan Insurance President Bob Regan said drivers should be aware that "the number of uninsured drivers looks like it's going to go up."

"The only advice we can offer is to increase your coverage [for personal medical coverage] to the maximum your company will allow," Regan said. "The problem is that all the companies are not doing the same thing. Some companies want to cap it at $5,000 to $10,000, while others will go to $100,000."

Many insurance companies want to end the existing system because they say PIP - which guarantees people in an insured car at least $10,000 toward medical bills or disability - creates a ripe environment for medical overbilling or outright fraud.

An at-fault system would require injured drivers and passengers to prove someone else was to blame for their injuries and should pay.

"Some people were saying that allowing PIP to expire would reduce your insurance bill," Regan said. "But if you want coverage, you're going to need to increase your medical payments. That's why it's a shell game - you pay now or pay later."

But as it stands, that personal-medical insurance would not be legally required.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wrote to legislators this week, warning "nearly every state in the nation requires some medical benefits insurance coverage, and failing to mandate this insurance protection is not in the best interest of Floridians."

"Now a lot of people are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it's a train going to run us over," Saunders said. "A lot of people are ticked about PIP going away."

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Copyright (c) 2007, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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