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Moody's: Insurers to Benefit from Florida PIP Legislation

NU Online News Service, March 19, 2:13 p.m. EDT

The recent passage of legislation reforming Florida’s personal injury protection auto-insurance system should help combat rising claims costs and insurance rates in the state, and is credit-positive for insurers, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

In its Weekly Credit Outlook, Moody’s says capping non-emergency medical-condition payouts to $2,500 as opposed to $10,000, limiting the time to seek medical treatment following an auto accident to 14 days, and excluding massage therapists and acupuncturists from the medical providers covered by PIP should reduce insurers’ costs.

Moody’s further states that prohibiting attorneys from contingency fee multipliers will reduce insurers’ legal expenses, and more detailed police reports should help identify fraudulent claims earlier.

These provisions were included in HB119, a bill passed by the Florida legislature earlier this month.

Reactions have not been all positive. In a pair of opinion pieces on PropertyCasualty360.com, Christopher Tidball, a Florida-based executive claims consultant who blogs for the site, criticizes the legislation, saying in his first story that it is a step in the right direction that is “somewhat akin to taking the first steps of a 600 mile trek from Tallahassee to Key West.”

He adds in his second story, “The problem with the recent ‘fix’ to the Florida no-fault statute is that it does not address the root causes of the problems, which run quite deep.”

In another column, National Underwriter Senior Editor Chad Hemenway, who has closely followed insurance legislation developments in Florida, points out that neither side in the debate was happy with the outcome, which may be a sign that the negotiations were ultimately successful. While the impact of this bill is unknown as of now, he says it is progress for the industry, which usually emerges empty-handed from the state’s legislative sessions.

Citing the need for the legislation, Moody’s says in its outlook thatFlorida’s weak PIP profitability is due in part to medical providers’ excessive billing practices, or fraudulent claims. Moody’s notes that, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau,Floridaranks first in questionable-insurance claims “for what appear to be staged auto accidents.”

Moody’s also notes that insurers’ payments of legal fees are frequently greater than the value of the actual PIP reimbursement. “According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, the number of drivers in the state has held steady since 2008 and the accident rate decreased by 4 percent from 2008 to 2010, but insurance losses rose 67 percent to $2.5 billion in 2010 from $1.5 billion in 2008, despite improved fraud detection techniques among insurers,” Moody’s says.

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