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House panel advances ‘accuracy in damages’ bill

What’s billed is rarely what’s paid.

Is this the year for tort reform?

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee passed a long-sought “accuracy in damages” reform package Wednesday, HB 9 by Rep. Tom Leek.

Anyone who’s gone to a doctor knows that medical providers often bill more — sometimes much more — than what they’re actually willing to accept in payment. But in Florida, when juries calculate damages in personal injury cases, they generally only see the amounts billed. That artificially inflates jury awards, creating perverse incentives and raising the cost of doing business.

To address the issue, Leek’s bill ensures that juries base their awards for medical expenses on the usual and customary amounts actually received by medical providers. If the claimant has health insurance or government health coverage, the amounts paid or payable under that coverage are considered the usual and customary amounts.

At the subcommittee hearing, bill sponsor Leek used several charts to show how medical providers use “letters of protection” to inflate the medical bills presented to a jury.

A chart from Leek’s presentation illustrating the difference between amounts billed and amounts paid.

Lauren McBride, director of liability for Publix Super Markets, said, “we have over 450 cases in litigation. In Florida, 61% of the claims have letters of protection. Of those claimants, 62% have health insurance but choose not to use it because, we believe, they are being told not to use their health insurance by their attorneys who are sending them to doctors that they have relationships with, and juries should know about that.”

Andy Bolin, representing the Florida Justice Reform Institute, said, “the intent is to show the juries the amounts typically received from those programs, whether they’re private or government, but the bill doesn’t require us to stand up and tell the jury what insurance the claimant has.”

The committee passed the bill 10-4. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed companion legislation, SB 1668 by Sen. David Simmons, on Tuesday.

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