Florida’s oft-criticized no-fault automobile insurance program remains intact after Gov. Ron DeSantis this summer vetoed a bill that would have scrapped the requirement that drivers buy what’s called “personal injury protection” insurance.
But speculation that legislation targeting auto insurance could be resurrected during the 2022 Session increased this week after House Speaker Chris Sprowls named Rep. Erin Grall, primary sponsor of the PIP repeal bill in the House, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
Sprowls, however, on Wednesday downplayed any notion that Grall’s appointment as Judiciary Committee chair shows an increased interest in the issue and added that no decision had been made as of yet.
“I respect the Governor’s veto on the PIP bill,” Sprowls told Florida Politics on Wednesday. “You know, I haven’t had conversations yet as to whether we would try to bring it back or try to revamp it. That’s certainly not something that’s been at the top of the list based on everything else that’s been going on.”
Tallahassee lobbyist Mark Delegal of Delegal Aubuchon has been in the trenches of the debate over PIP that has gone on for Sessions dating all the way back to 2001. Delegal has clients on both sides of the PIP debate, as he represents State Farm, which would like to see the program repealed, as well as hospitals, which worry that eliminating PIP will leave drivers without health insurance without a way to pay for their care.
Delegal said that he was told in June that the Legislature wouldn’t resurrect the PIP debate in the 2022 Session that starts in January. Now, Delegal said, the “rumor mill” suggests it will be resurrected.
“But the first stop needs to be downstairs to the Governor’s Office and say ‘OK, what about this bill didn’t you like and what do I need to do to fix it so you would approve of it?” Delegal said. “And once I get the information — and if I am a leader in the House and Senate — then go back to my office and say, “OK, can I do that? Is that something I can agree with? Hold my nose, factor it all in.’ And if I can agree with where the Governor is, I will proceed. And if we say we’re just too far apart, I put it down, and I move onto other issues.”
In a June 30 veto letter, DeSantis acknowledged that Florida’s current PIP system is flawed but noted that the insurance replacement created in SB 54 does not “adequately address the current issues facing Florida drivers and may have unintended consequences that would negatively impact both the market and consumers.”
DeSantis’s veto — which was expected by legislative insiders ahead of time — was seen as an acknowledgment that some drivers could have been hit with rate hikes just as the Governor is heading into a reelection campaign.
PIP provides Florida drivers $10,000 worth of coverage for medical, disability, and funeral expenses, without regard to fault, subject to a limit of $2,500 for nonemergency medical care. In exchange for providing PIP coverage, vehicle owners and operators are immune from tort claims within PIP coverage limits.
The bill passed by legislators — SB 54 — eliminated the PIP mandate and the corresponding civil immunity protections, making drivers at fault for the accidents they cause. In place of a PIP requirement, SB 54 mandated that drivers have what’s called bodily injury or BI coverage with a minimum coverage limit of $25,000 for the bodily injury or death of any one person and $50,000 for the bodily injury or death of two or more persons.
Moreover, SB 54 would have required insurance companies to offer drivers a medical policy or so-called “MedPay” policy. Unless a driver actively opted out of the coverage, drivers would have medical coverage.
Ahead of the Governor’s veto, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier released the findings of an actuarial analysis that showed automobile insurance premiums could increase by 13.3% or approximately $202 per vehicle annually for insureds. The analysis assumed the $10,000 MedPay was in effect.
DeSantis had received letters requesting a veto from industry groups including the Florida Insurance Council and the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida and the Florida Chiropractic Physician Association.
Physicians and other health care providers have worried eliminating PIP could slow down payments for treating patients injured in car accidents. Chris Nuland, who has lobbied the Legislature for more than three decades on behalf of specialty physician groups, works closely with lawmakers on issues that impact his clients.
“That (eliminating PIP) is a passion of hers,” Nuland said of Grall’s interest in the issue. “As a lobbyist, I understand when someone is doing what leadership is doing versus a passion. And I think she’s going to take another run at PIP.”