John Askins spent 24 years in Miami investigating staged accidents, fake injury claims, and other car insurance fraud before going on to head the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud. He retired from government in September but followed this month's new personal injury protection (PIP) reform bill closely.
All Florida drivers are required to carry PIP insurance, which covers them for up to $10,000 in medical bills and lost wages if they're in an accident. The bill passed by the Legislature this month limits the medical benefits to $2,500 unless a doctor decides the injured driver has an "emergency medical condition."
Consumer advocates and trial lawyers have said the new rules could prevent injured people from getting longer-term care and won't guarantee lower insurance premiums. The Pulp outlined many of the bill's flaws here. But Askins, with his decades of experience fighting fraud, has a different view of the legislation. Here's an excerpt of what he said from his home in Tallahassee:
Q: What do you think of the bill?
A: "I do believe it's the most significant that I can remember. [However], I thought it was imperative that they put a cap on attorney's fees [which the Legislature did not do]. Trial lawyers are too powerful."
Q: Will it shut down car accident clinics?
A: "It's not going to eliminate these fraudulent clinics, unfortunately. It's just going to reduce the amount that they can steal. These people are like roaches -- they just come back. They'll find ways to get around it, but at least they have been neutralized somewhat."
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Q: What about the requirement limiting medical benefits to $2,500 unless it's a medical emergency?
A: "I'm not sure what that means, but you better be bleeding or have a broken bone... I personally do not believe this new legislation will adversely affect even one injured person."
Q: What if tests reveal an injury but the $2,500 was used up by the tests?
A: "If you were really injured, what would you do? You'd go to the emergency room... You don't go to these fly-by-night clinics. It's not going to affect a really injured person."
Q: [The bill makes a 10 percent reduction in PIP insurance rates optional. Insurance companies can refuse to lower the rate if they provide a written excuse]. What if insurance companies refuse to lower their rates?
A: "It remains to be seen how that works out... It's incumbent on the insurance commissioner to say 'no.' ...[It's] not a perfect bill, but it's a big step in the right direction."
"Not that insurance companies are perfect. They're out for profit and you have to watch them."