TALLAHASSEE — Automobile insurers have until Monday to show Florida regulators how much, if at all, they plan on reducing rates on the personal injury protection, or no-fault, portion of drivers' policies.
A new PIP law still requires all Florida drivers to carry $10,000 in coverage for accident injuries, but created a lower ceiling of $2,500 in coverage for nonemergency treatment to cut down on abuses.
Jack McDermott, the communications director for the Office of Insurance Regulation, said it's too early for state officials to really know how the changes in the law will actually affect motorists' bills.
"It appears the effect of the law for most companies may be to reduce the amount of rate requests, which is a positive development, but not lead to actual PIP rate reductions," said McDermott.
He emphasized that regulators still have 60 days to review the rate requests before a final decision is made.
Others are hopeful that premium reductions will show up more quickly.
"I fully expect significant premium savings and for those savings to be passed along from insurance companies to Florida drivers," Florida Consumer Insurance Advocate Robin Westcott said. "By stemming abuses and controlling the skyrocketing costs that come with them, Floridians will see lower PIP premiums."
Stemming the abuses, however, remains a huge challenge despite recent changes in the law aimed at doing just that, not to mention legal challenges that are likely to be filed after the new rates start taking effect after Jan. 1.
The thrust of Florida's revamped PIP law was aimed at cracking down on the runaway fraud resulting from bogus pain clinics and staged auto accidents that was increasing the cost of coverage for drivers.
"The bad actors are not going to give up this gold mine easily," said Sam Miller, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, an industry group. "The heart of the new law is to focus PIP payments on emergency care and limit non-emergency care to $2,500. If we can't make this work, all of the reforms may collapse."
The new law puts a 14-day limit on seeking treatment following a crash. Benefits also will be capped at $2,500 unless a medical doctor, osteopathic physician, dentist, supervised physician's assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner determines the injured person has an "emergency medical condition." Chiropractors cannot make that determination.
Bogus claims and faked accidents are largely responsible for a $1.4 billion increase in PIP costs since 2008, state officials say.
Some insurance experts fear that PIP coverage will be eliminated if the latest version isn't successful.
"I think this is our last best chance," said Michael Carlson, executive director of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. "You've got very smart people, both Democrats and Republicans, who would like to see PIP eliminated."
But others, including Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, want to give it another chance.
The biggest problems have been, and continue to be, in South Florida and Tampa where the fraud is most prevalent and drivers face the most expensive insurance costs. Miami drivers pay an average of $3,193 annually for their insurance — the fourth highest in the country and triple the statewide average, according to statistics from the Insurance Information Institute.
A Hollywood physician and Boca Raton attorney have sent solicitations promoting ways to get around the state's tougher standards governing the required personal injury protection portion of the insurance.
Dr. Alen E. Gordon of Hollywood wrote attorneys with instructions on what he needs to make immediate examinations and provide immediate reports to PIP insurers.
"We are able to give consultations, prescriptions, follow-up examinations, disability examinations, depositions and testifying in court," Gordon wrote an omnibus letter addressed: Dear Attorney.
"We will make a rush appointment," said Gordon, who provided his email address and fax number.
The Florida P.I.P. Law Firm, PA, in Boca Raton has circulated an advertisement to medical providers and drivers with phone numbers where they can get legal advice on how to proceed in collecting the maximum amount available.
In a mailer to doctors, physician's assistants and nurse practitioners, the firm outlined what conditions must be included in a diagnosis for the maximum $10,000 benefit to be paid.
"My office represents chiropractors under the `old' PIP law and will continue to represent chiropractors under the `new' PIP law too," the advertisement read.
It's not the first time — or last — that fliers have been sent out in advertisement form seeking ways around the new requirements.
A Tampa company sent fliers to chiropractors in early spring suggesting ways to capitalize on potential loopholes in new legislation.
Not surprisingly, Florida leads the nation in the number of staged accidents.
Since 1972, Florida motorists have been required to buy PIP coverage to make sure anyone injured in a crash receives money to treat their injuries in a timely manner. A driver's insurance company is required to pay up to $10,000 for medical bills and lost wages no matter who is at fault.