Since the February 14th announcement by Gov. DeSantis, Senate President Passidomo, and House Speaker Renner they intend to tackle challenges in the litigation environment during this Spring’s legislative session, a fair amount of confusion and misinformation soon followed. Consider these answers to the questions we are hearing most often from our members to give you a more accurate picture of the different issues being considered in Tallahassee right now.
Q: I’m hearing from the attorneys that PIP/No-fault, together with AOBs and LOP could all go away. Is that really what is happening?
A: Not really. Regretfully several separate and distinct bills are being grouped together and reported by some in an attempt to stoke fear largely in the provider community. True, the proposal to repeal PIP and replace it with an MBI insurance requirement is being offered again, much as it has been the last eight years (SB 586 and HB 429), but it is a stand-alone issue (see more below). The question of AOBs is likewise in a separate measure (HB 541), a supposedly flawed draft of a bill with the intent of curbing litigation abuses relating mainly to windshield glass replacements. On the other hand, LOPs are addressed in the main tort bills (HB 837 & SB 236) and while not eliminated, their value and use could be negatively impacted moving forward.
Q: So, if tort reform is the real target, why should I be concerned?
A: While advocates couch the bills as efforts to quash attorney abuses including frivolous lawsuits, in many ways they will have negative consequences for injured Floridians, largely to the benefit of big business interests. If passed in their current form the bills include changes to recoveries under both PIP and PI cases that would prove problematic to healthcare providers as well. Two issues are of primary concern: First, the repeal of a patient’s or provider’s right to prevailing party attorney’s fees in PIP cases; and second, limitations on provider reimbursements for balances owed in personal injury cases.
Q: Regarding the change in payment of attorney’s fees, how will it affect me?
A: Without any pressure on the auto carriers to pay attorney’s fees for denied or reduced payments, and without any PIP lawyers willing to take the cases, the auto insurers will be free (and will) reduce and deny your treatment bills. Because the PIP lawyers will no longer have a
right to get paid in statute, providers will not hire them on an hourly basis to file a lawsuit to recover $500, $1,000, or more. While it does not sound that bad, when you take the total amount reduced or denied over a year, that will add up to a lot of money with the provider’s hands tied and no ability to rectify the denials.
Q: Okay, so if LOPs are not going away how will my ability to get paid change?
A: Almost any type of agreement/promise to pay after settlement will be considered a LOP and will be captured in this bill. So, in PI cases the doctors and lawyers would now have to disclose: The LOP to the insurer; all medical expenses in an itemized billing statement (AMA’s CPT or HCPS coding); the patient’s health insurance; your referral source for treatment under the LOP; and in the Senate bill, any financial relationship between a law firm and a medical provider. With these big disclosures, LOPs may become nonexistent. Lawyers will not want the insurance companies to collect them and use them in a trial. Without LOPs, you will be increasingly at the whim of the settlements -- and the lawyers -- for getting paid.
Q: Now that I better understand the repeal of PIP/No-fault is a completely separate issue, what is the latest on that front?
A: In early February Senate Bill 586 was pre-filed, followed by House Bill 429. Though not identical, both bills yet again propose to repeal Florida’s 50-plus-year-old automobile insurance system replacing it with a requirement that drivers instead must carry mandatory bodily insurance coverage in varying amounts. Both bills were assigned to three committees each and are currently awaiting hearings in their first committees of reference. This is at least the eighth attempt at a change-over pushed by the Florida Justice Association. Last year’s effort passed the House but died in committee in the Senate. The 2021 attempt successfully passed both houses but was later vetoed by Gov. DeSantis in the shadow of an OIR-commissioned study suggesting the change-over would raise premiums. It remains to be seen if this year’s attempt will end any differently in light of the proposed tort reform measure.
Q: A lawyer I work with is asking me to donate funds to help defend against the tort reform changes. Should I?
A: This is not so much a political decision as it is a business decision for you alone. Please understand any contribution you make to, or through, an attorney -- whether it be to a political committee or a legal fund -- will be put to work to further the PIP lawyer’s agenda, an agenda which might not necessarily be in the best interests of the chiropractic profession. Any contribution you make may be put to use on a singular issue like protecting attorney’s fees -- but perhaps not on caps on medical bills, and certainly not on the many other bills your FCA Lobby Team is working on for the profession this session. As always, we suggest the very best return on your investment rests in supporting chiropractic political action specifically by supporting the FCA’s long-standing political committee ChiroPAC. (For more information, and to make your secure online donation, please visit www.ChiroPAC.org.)
Q: What is the FCA doing -- and what can I do to help?
A: The FCA Lobby Team is closely monitoring and engaging in the tort reform debate, both behind the scenes and in the front row at all public hearings. We are also actively working with the other healthcare professions on amendments to remove and/or improve the bills to minimize any negative impacts as they relate to providers. We ask you to please stay closely tuned to our updates and be prepared to act when WE urge you to act. At this early stage of the debate, we are not calling you into action, but that could quickly change.
Given the high profile of the tort reform issue, together with the strong support publicly pledged by the Governor together with legislative leaders in both chambers, we need to remain cognizant that we have a significant number of other issues on deck critical to chiropractic this session. Remaining reasonable and civil in this debate helps ensure a seat at the table when other key priorities for the chiropractic profession are up for discussion, debate, and negotiation.
This special FCA-FAQ briefing was prepared by FCA General Counsel Kim Driggers and Government Affairs Director Jack Hebert and was last updated on March 7, 2023. For your latest weekly FCA Frontline Tallahassee report check your e-mail or log into the member’s-only section of the FCA website at www.FCAChiro.org.