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EDITORIAL: Lawmakers Must Take Action on Personal Injury Protection

Aug 23, 2007

By South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Aug. 24--ISSUE: Florida's latest insurance crisis is here.

The state of Florida faces another insurance crisis, and once again confusion runs rampant while solutions seem scarce.

State lawmakers can't reach a consensus on addressing the problem, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is having difficulty interpreting the law. One thing is clear, motorists will be left in a lurch as the state's no fault automobile insurance law is set to expire.

On Oct. 1, the mandatory coverage, also known as personal injury protection, will be wiped off the books unless the Florida Legislature extends the law during next month's special session. Fat chance, at least for the moment. The same legislators who let the clock wind down and the controversy fester aren't close to resolving this issue.

Consumers aren't getting much help from state highway and motor vehicle officials, either. Highway safety officials initially said that motorists would no longer need to buy $10,000 worthof PIP coverage if the no-fault auto insurance law goes away. This week, they reversed themselves. Armed with a new legal interpretation, they insist drivers will need to carry $10,000 in property damage coverage.

In the meantime, the insurance firms pushing to end no-fault have begun to offer lower premiums. Still, consumer advocates remain legitimatelyconcerned that the end of PIP will shift greater health-care costs onto hospital emergency rooms and ultimately local taxpayers. There's also worry motorists will face ever higher premiums to cover medical costs resulting from automobile accidents.

PIP has its problems, most notably fraud stemming from dubious or exorbitant medical billings. Still, the program provides benefits by keeping the disputes arising from traffic accidents out of court and making sure that medical care is available to accident victims. That, however, will change if no-fault auto insurance goes away and Florida's millions of motorists aren't given a viable alternative.

The clock is ticking. Lawmakers still have a chance to reach an agreement and extend PIP. They'd better. Resolving a crisis is always better than enabling one.

BOTTOM LINE: The Legislature must save PIP -- and fast.


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