Mike McCalister Opinion: Florida Needs to Reform Transparency in Damages

How would you like to be charged‭ ‬$1,000‭ ‬for a car repair and then find out later that the market rate for that service is just‭ ‬$100‭? ‬You would probably speed back to the repair shop and demand answers or a refund.

Unfortunately,‭ ‬a similar scenario is festering in Florida’s courtrooms when it comes to how medical service costs are calculated in injury lawsuits.‭ ‬The current system reflects costs based on what‭ ‬is called‭ “‬transparency in damages.‭”‬ In short,‭ ‬these are dollar amounts billed to patients for medical care as opposed to the actual amounts—figures that are often much lower—that were paid for treatment,‭ ‬usually by an insurer or government assistance.‭

The gap in these dollar figures can be significant,‭ ‬and Florida’s legal system incentivizes certain bad actors such as trial lawyers,‭ ‬medical financing companies,‭ ‬and even some medical providers to conceal the true costs of treatment for their clients in order to score huge paydays.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬our juries aren’t even allowed to know the‭ ‬amount billed.‭ ‬With nothing to stop them,‭ ‬why wouldn’t interested parties inflate that number to line their own pockets‭?

Well,‭ ‬any upstanding attorney or medical professional wouldn’t,‭ ‬especially if they knew the victims of this lawsuit abuse are everyday Floridians like you and me,‭ ‬as well as our state’s thousands of small businesses.‭ ‬But unlucky for us,‭ ‬this isn’t the world we live in.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬insurance premiums go up for everyone when insurers are forced to factor in the far more expensive verdicts in our state.‭ ‬Additionally,‭ ‬consumer prices increase,‭ ‬and jobs are lost when businesses are on the hook for claims.‭ ‬As things stand,‭ ‬Florida families are bankrolling a crony system,‭ ‬and most don’t even know it.

This has gotten so out of hand,‭ ‬that‭ “‬medical financing‭” ‬is now a thriving industry here in Florida.‭ ‬These companies offer to pay the full costs of care for victims,‭ ‬knowing the odds of a much higher award in court are quite good,‭ ‬and they will likely receive a significant return on their‭ “‬investment.‭” ‬Similarly,‭ ‬many providers work with attorneys to persuade clients to forgo health insurance and sign a‭ “‬letter of protection.‭” ‬In both cases,‭ ‬lawyers are often in league with certain financing companies or providers they know will order unnecessary tests and procedures to drive up the cost of medical care.‭ ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬what is rarely disclosed is that victims end up as the only ones with anything to lose.‭ ‬Having been swindled into forgoing insurance assistance,‭ ‬they are on the hook for a much higher cost of treatment should their case go the wrong way in court.

This blatant abuse is perfectly depicted in the‭ ‬case of a Florida plaintiff who slipped and fell in the grocery store,‭ ‬injuring both knees and requiring identical surgery on each.‭ ‬The plaintiff used health insurance for the first surgery and was billed‭ ‬$19,000‭ ‬but only paid‭ ‬$3,400‭ ‬out of her own pocket.‭ ‬The plaintiff used a letter of protection for the second procedure and was billed‭ ‬$59,000.‭ ‬Without this key information,‭ ‬a jury is left with no options.‭ ‬If the plaintiff is a victim and deserves medical compensation,‭ ‬they can only award the dollar figure that’s been disclosed.‭ ‬And while the plaintiff may‭ “‬win,‭” ‬the attorneys,‭ ‬financing companies,‭ ‬and providers score a‭ ‬windfall of‭ ‬$55,600‭ ‬paid for by us through higher premiums and prices.‭

Unfortunately,‭ ‬more and more personal injury cases like this are being filed in Florida each day,‭ ‬bloating our justice system,‭ ‬and indirectly ripping off everyone who lives,‭ ‬works,‭ ‬and pays taxes here.‭ ‬To change this,‭ ‬it seems logical that defendants should be allowed to compare the market value of certain procedures with what is billed in Florida in order to weed out inflated costs.‭ ‬It also seems reasonable that jurors should be made aware of what medical services have been paid for,‭ ‬what those costs were,‭ ‬and who paid for them.

In reality,‭ ‬any of the above solutions would be a dramatic step forward for our state.‭ ‬With record inflation,‭ ‬rising interest rates,‭ ‬and a labor shortage already wreaking havoc on our economy,‭ ‬the last thing Florida needs is additional unnecessary economic strain.‭ ‬It cannot stand that our civil justice system is being manipulated by bad actors and exploited for financial gain.‭ ‬Florida voters must let our‭ ‬lawmakers know that‭ ‬transparency in damages‭ ‬reform is a‭ ‬top‭ ‬priority.

Mike McCalister is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served more than three decades, businessman, university instructor and father. He is a licensed and degreed Agri-Business professional and owner-operator of a small tree farm. He is also a university instructor in accredited MBA and DBA programs, teaching working professionals about today’s extremely competitive global economy in areas of Operations Management, Strategy & Policy, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Thinking. He has worked with physicians, hospitals, biotech and healthcare companies to improve efficiencies and outcomes.

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