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Face smashed, Boynton cyclist joins call to end Florida’s no-fault PIP

Ask triathlete Paul Davidson of Boynton Beach whether he thinks Florida lawmakers should find the will in the next three weeks to make the biggest change in half a century to car insurance in the state: Repeal the no-fault Personal Injury Protection system.

Eleven months ago Saturday, a driver hit him on his bicycle on A1A and sent him flying 60 feet, he said.

“My lip was ripped up to my nose,” he said. “Two of my teeth were missing. I was knocked unconscious.”

He awoke to an “eye-opening experience” about insurance, he said.

Florida is one of only two states that do not require the driver who hit him to carry liability coverage for injuring other people like Davidson — just $10,000 for the driver’s own injuries, regardless of who is at fault.

Drivers in Florida are required to carry some of the lowest coverage amounts in the country, yet they pay among the top eight highest premiums.

The state forces Davidson as a driver to buy $10,000 of PIP coverage he does not particularly want or need, in his view, because he already has health insurance. Paying for PIP just drives up his own car insurance rates. PIP premiums have soared an average of 25 percent since the start of 2015.

“For the life of me, I don’t see the purpose of PIP,” he said.

Davidson, 61, lost the ability to renew his pilot’s license to fly small craft, he said.

“I have permanent disfiguration of my forehead, my lip, my nose,” he said. “I’ve lost basically 40 years of flying.”

His health insurance paid much of the cost but “I’m out of pocket about $10,000 to $12,000,” he said. “Basically the other individual bore no responsibility at all for what happened.”

Without the right kind of required insurance, it can be difficult to collect much from drivers who do not have a lot of assets.

Florida and New Hampshire are the only two states in the country that do not require drivers to buy bodily injury liability coverage, according to a survey in January published by the Insurance Information Institute.

The last five days have brought signs key legislative committees largely agree that Florida’s no-fault car insurance system is troubled and hard to defend, though big differences remain on how to replace it before the session ends early next month.

Drivers fed up with being forced to buy PIP could save money under a bill that headed to the House floor last Thursday.

But driver savings disappear and premiums could even rise slightly over time under a Senate version that also cleared a committee on the same day. Like the House bill, it ends the state’s no-fault system but instead requires that drivers to buy $5,000 in “medical payments” coverage.

The Senate bill merely “renames” and slightly reshapes PIP, said HB 1063 sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach.

Grall’s bill, which passed the House commerce committee 22-5, heralds “definitely a shift in the way we view auto insurance,” she said.

SB 1766 by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, passed the banking and insurance committee 8-1. It still has a couple more committee stops.

Lee said the issue is not whether to repeal PIP, but how.

“I’m of the fundamental belief that PIP is woefully inadequate in the 21st century,” Lee said. “It’s just lost pace with the cost and medical inflation and treating injured parties.”

The Grall bill replaces PIP with required bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident. Two out of three Florida drivers already carry that much BI coverage and more than 90 percent have some level of BI.

An actuarial study last fall found drivers could save up to $81 annually per car if the state repealed PIP, even with increases in other kinds of coverage. The study calculated average driver savings of 5.6 percent with 25/50 BI coverage, a House staff analysis noted.

Drivers who already have that much BI coverage stand to save more than average.

Lee expressed concerns about making sure drivers without health insurance have some coverage for emergency treatment. He said that prompted the inclusion of the medical-payments requirement, which doctor and hospital groups have supported if PIP goes away. Some groups have put the health-uninsured rate at 13 percent, 15 percent or more.

As for premiums, “I believe this bill will be a break-even for Florida drivers,” Lee said.

In debate, he referred to the possibility that the House and Senate will have to square off over competing versions if both chambers pass them. He told colleagues it’s possible the two chambers will “agree to disagree” and kick the issue to next year.

Is there any room for compromise to target the uninsured more directly? Lee’s office said he is “open to the will of the legislature.”

One option: Require insurers to offer medical payments coverage but do not force consumers to buy it. Some states such as Colorado do that. Florida already does that for uninsured motorist coverage.

Another option is requiring it only for drivers unable to demonstrate they have health insurance from Medicare, an employer plan or other qualified coverage. That imposes an administrative burden, but government already undertakes that when it asks for proof of insurance before people can get license tags, for example.

Florida remains among a dwindling number of states that have no-fault systems and do not require bodily injury. Two dozen states have dropped no-fault systems in recent decades, but Florida has stuck with the system it started in 1971.

Drivers often pay up to a quarter or more of their total car insurance bill for just $10,000 of PIP coverage. They have no choice but to pay the rising premiums even if they never get in an accident.

Some drivers have called it “double taxation” because in effect they pay twice for medical insurance.

The system is a “joke,” said driver Dick Natalizio of Palm Beach Gardens. “In Colorado, they got rid of no-fault and their premiums went down 35 percent.”

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