Auto insurance changes could affect premiums, acupuncture treatment

5:50 PM, Apr 1, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- A personal injury protection bill passed on the last day of Florida's legislative session could soon impact you behind the wheel.

The changes coming in July, such as stricter licensing for clinics and different accident reports, may not be noticeable for most commuters. But what happens after that could affect insurance rates and medical treatment.

"The way people seek medical attention after they're injured in a crash changes," says Lynn McChristian, Florida representative for the insurance education nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

Starting in January, people will still be entitled to $10,000 in benefits if an injury suffered in a crash is considered an emergency. More minor injuries could get $2,500 of limited treatment. Either way, a person will have two weeks to seek treatment and the changes could lower premiums, eventually.

"Insurance rates are the cost of claims," McChristian says. "So if the cost of claims goes down because of these changes in the law, rates will go down as well."

But it may cause business to go down for some massage therapists and acupuncturists because the law removes their ability to treat patients under personal injury protection. McChristian says when state legislators looked at where abuse occurs, their findings showed it sometimes happens in massage therapy and acupuncture.

But Ellen Teeter, who's an acupuncture physician and the vice president of the Florida State Oriental Medical Association, disagrees with those findings. She says many patients seek acupuncture after other treatments fail. According to FSOMA, PIP equals, on average, $250 of a Florida acupuncturist's total revenue each year.

"There was some data that indicated, per treatment, there was an increase in costs," Teeter says. "Some of that is actually because the insurance companies were paying more for the acupuncture."

She says past versions of the bill allowed doctors and chiropractors to perform acupuncture with far less training. Now, acupuncture is restricted altogether, and Teeter says that's a loss for patients, especially those who have nowhere else to turn for relief.

"To me, it's a tragedy because we're so good with pain," she says. "Now, people go to the emergency room and they're going to get pain medication, and you know about the pain medication problem in this state."

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