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Aug 16, 2007

By South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Aug. 17--ISSUE: PIP -- RIP?

Florida's no-fault auto insurance apparently is going the way of the dodo bird. Unless state lawmakers agree to extend it, the mandatory coverage, known as Personal Injury Protection or PIP, goes away on Oct. 1.

If that happens, motorists can anticipate even more frustration -- and undoubtedly increased costs -- in a state already undergoing a crisis in the insurance arena.

Under PIP, motorists are required to pay for coverage that pays up to $10,000 for medical expenses, disability and death benefits. PIP provides an exemption from tort liability and damages for vehicle owners, a feature that takes the inconvenience out of finding fault for an auto accident in court.

Without no-fault, motorists are more likely to find themselves trying to prove fault and wrangle payments to resolve disputes arising from contested accidents. Keeping auto accident claims out of court was the primary reason PIP came into being. If it disappears, so does the bar on the courthouse door.

Motorists also will have to bolster coverage with supplemental medical insurance, a choice that promises no guarantee the new coverage will match the benefits and costs of PIP. The insurance firms opposing PIP claim they will provide similar benefits at cheaper rates. State regulators should make sure that happens.

The situation is murkier for motorists who lack health insurance. While they are entitled to receive emergency treatment, they may not receive follow-up services, especially if they are at fault or cannot pay their physician's bills. Unfortunately, those costs don't stop with the uninsured. The move away from PIP shifts a greater financial burden on local hospital emergency rooms, financed by taxpayers.

Lawmakers need to agree on a plan to extend PIP, while addressing the legitimate concerns of fraud and other shortcomings that come with mandated no-fault coverage. Unfortunately, consensus seems elusive, even as the alternative of change remains just as unsettling.

BOTTOM LINE: Lawmakers must find a way to revitalize mandatory no-fault auto insurance.


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