A few years ago Tampa had become the capital of personal injury protection insurance fraud, as con artists staged accidents and clinics bilked the system, running up charges for fake injuries.
Fortunately, the state Legislature responded, and it appears the reforms are working.
The office of insurance regulation reports that personal injury protection coverage is expected to drop an average of 13.2 percent, based on a survey of 20 insurers that cover more than 75 percent of the state market.
PIP provides insurance coverage for injuries, lost income and other benefits for people hurt in motor-vehicle accidents. The limit is $10,000.
The goal of PIP was to ensure medical bills were covered in a timely fashioned without litigation, but swindlers learned how to take advantage of the “no-fault” insurance, making false accident reports and submitting fraudulent medical claims.
The Hillsborough County Commission, led by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, tried to fight the rip-off on a local level with an ordinance that included clinic licensing and other requirements. That effort ran into legal issues.
But, fortunately, Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and several key lawmakers also made a priority of combating the fraud, which a study conducted for Atwater estimated resulted in an extra $400 a year in automobile insurance premiums for the average Florida family.
It wasn’t until the last day of the 2012 session, but lawmakers did finally adopt PIP reform.
The legislation imposed a 14-day limit on seeking treatment after a crash. It capped benefits at $2,500 unless a medical doctor, osteopathic physician, dentist or supervised physician’s assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner determined the injured person had an “emergency medical condition.”
The legislation prohibited benefits if claimants refused to be questioned under oath, and it allowed judges to limit lawyers’ fees. It also included licensing requirements for clinics and tougher penalties for health care practitioners who commit fraud.
PIP fraud has not been eliminated, of course, but, as the insurance numbers indicate, the legislation has curbed the abuse.
Scott, lawmakers and local officials and law enforcement deserve credit for tackling what had become a runaway scam.