Opinion: Give Florida drivers a break

Sep 2, 2011

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on September 2, 2011:

Give Florida drivers a break

If Florida’s property insurance crisis is difficult to fix, the state’s auto insurance problem should be relatively easy to resolve. Given the power of certain special-interest groups in Tallahassee, though, nothing is easy.

This year, insurance companies and consumer advocates – imagine the evangelicals and the secular humanists joining forces – supported legislation aimed at reducing the fraud that jacks up car insurance premiums. In Orlando and Tampa especially, scam rings stage accidents and file bogus claims up to the $10,000 maximum drivers must carry in personal injury protection.

One bill would have tightened rules for payments to doctors and clinics, and limited attorneys’ fees. Another bill would have required that passengers, not just drivers, give information after being “injured” and allowed insurers more time to investigate claims that they suspected were fraudulent. Only dishonest doctors, clinic owners and lawyers had to worry. Lobbyists for those interests, though, swarmed legislators, and the effort failed.

Robin Westcott, the state’s new insurance consumer advocate, hopes to succeed in 2012. She is forming a panel of all the “stakeholders so everyone will be out with their positions” before the session starts. Ms. Westcott believes that legislators were surprised by the opposition and, rather than cast an uncertain vote, chose to do nothing.

Next time, Ms. Westcott wants “no surprises.” She wants to have the research ready for legislators. She wants to show how studies calculate that fraud needlessly drives up the price of a car policy by as much as $100. She wants the information also sent to Gov. Scott.

“I’m hoping that things won’t get combative” with the group, Ms. Westcott says. She can assume that they will. But if the advocates can put up a better fight against the scammers, honest Floridians will be in the driver’s seat.

– Randy Schultz,

for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board

Find this article here:  http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/editorials/give-florida-drivers-a-break-1815177.html