There are several important issues scheduled for this legislative session in Florida that are worth noting because they will reduce taxes and fraud, thereby saving consumers money.
First, companion bills HB 7141 and SB 110 take steps to reduce cell phone taxes. Florida consumer pay over 20% tax on cell phone bills each month. For young, minorities and poor, wireless phone services are often the only phone and Internet connection that some consumers will have. We discuss this problem in some detail in our article published in the Tallahassee Democrat. We believe that keeping rates affordable is very important, which make reducing these exorbitant fees worthwhile. Moreover, we should not tax what we should encourage.
In addition to the cutting taxes in the state, there are several important bills that, if passed, would take big toward steps in reducing insurance fraud. These measures will ultimately reduce costs and premiums for consumers.
Top of the list is HB 669 (Rep. Tobia) on reforming Assignment of Benefits (AOB). While AOB was designed to provide consumers facing emergency home repairs the convenience of timely payment of vendors by insurers, some of these vendors – particularly water remediation and roofing firms – and a number of attorneys have abused the AOB process by expanding the scope of repairs and escalating costs. The result has led to massive fraud in the state that has pushed unnecessary costs to insurers, who eventually pass these costs along to consumers in the form of higher premiums. What was supposed to protect consumers has ultimately turned out to drive higher costs for insurers and consumers. If enacted, this bill would rein in inflated claims and limit the assignment of post-loss benefits. The bill’s reforms would keep costs better aligned with actual damages, reduce fraudulent activities, and make homeowner premiums more affordable for consumers. We believe this bill is pro-consumer.
There are two other pro-consumer insurance-rated bills on the agenda that are worth noting. One is HR 1197 (Rep. Hill) requires a written notice as a precedent for bringing third-party bad faith claims. This should help reduce frivolous lawsuits, reduce unnecessary costs and ultimately benefit consumers. In addition, there is a second bill of note, HB 1199 (Rep. Metz), which would ensure the accuracy of damages, thereby reducing inflated (phantom) charges and allowing the actual cost of medical care to be shared with a jury during trial. This HB 1199 would help align settlements with actual costs, thereby decreasing frivolous lawsuits. This bill is also pro-consumer because it would reduce costs, which would ultimately lower premiums for consumers.
As a consumer-focused educational and research nonprofit institute, we believe these bills are worthy of consideration in that they all represent pro-consumer reforms.
In the end, these bills are among those in 2015 that represent a legislative opportunity for Florida. It means reducing fraud, cutting taxes and, ultimately, saving consumers money.