by Jeania Ingle
“I’m so sorry, we’ve had to raise our price recently to adjust for the new PIP law” is an all too familiar refrain. Many have been affected by the new law, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and anyone who drives in Pinellas County, but massage therapy is the prime casualty. Diana Cash, owner of Clinical Massage and Bodywork in Clearwater, still finds people who don’t yet know about their price change. They also don’t know about changes in Florida‘s new Personal Injury Protection law which legislators passed last year. Massage therapy, along with acupuncture, was removed from the new law as of January 1st of this year because it was deemed “not medically necessary.”
Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, is required for all drivers in the state of Florida to carry. It was designed to give immediate medical assistance regardless of who was at fault. The law was changed to combat the alleged $1 billion dollars a year in PIP fraud that Gov Rick Scott has quoted. According to Politifact.com this number cannot be substantiated, and even Florida State Senator Joe Negron, the sponsor of the bill, disputes this number and says it could more like $100 million to $125 million. The Politifact.com article quotes Negron with regard to the $1 billion amount, “I haven’t seen strong evidence to verify that.” After repeated requests, the office of Governor Rick Scott could not be reached for comment.
Under the old law, one had up to a year to file a claim, could go to a chiropractor to file the claim, and receive chiropractic, massage therapy, and/or acupuncture with a prescription, up to $10,000 worth of benefits. Under the new law, you now have two weeks to file a claim, require a prescription from a medical doctor to obtain the full $10,000 in benefits, and massage and acupuncture have been stricken from the list of covered treatments altogether.
As someone who has sustained multiple car accidents herself, Diana is grateful for the effects massage has had on her, as well as her clients. Diana says to exclude massage therapy as an accepted medical modality, “has set our industry back 10-15 years.” The Florida State Massage Therapy Association, or FSMTA, is currently challenging the new law in court. The organization says it could affect thousands of massage therapists across the state. Diana says it has impacted everyone in the office, from her, to the therapists, to the clients.
Massage therapists lose income because they are no longer compensated for a PIP massage, and the price increases cut into their tips from cash patients. The clinic has also turned away 10-15 new potential PIP cases and experienced a 20% loss of income to their business.
It’s not just a drop in business; your health and well being are also at stake by not receiving a vital modality after a car crash. The Mayo Clinic’s website states massage helps to increase joint mobility, decreases swelling, and helps to reduce muscle spasms and tension. The National Institute of Health also says massage can help reduce the effects of low-back pain as well as reduce inflammation. When asked for her professional opinion about massage and car accidents, Diana said, “We are the vessel for people to heal themselves.” She concludes, “It’s better than a pill. A pill is just masking it, we’re getting to the root of it. It helps us mentally, physically, and emotionally.”
The new changes have also affected chiropractors. The new law states that one must now obtain a script from a medical doctor in order to get the full $10,000 benefit. Dr. Clayton Hopkins, DC, a local chiropractor, forensic professional, and PIP expert, pays his staff massage therapists out of his own pocket so his clients can still take advantage of a “prime treatment modality.” One can still by-pass the prescription, but will only be eligible for up to $2,500 worth of benefits. The determination of what is an EMC can be daunting for doctors whose patients may not have injuries which can be seen on the outside. The new two-week filing window could also pose a problem. Not all injuries show up within this amount of time and patients who need treatment outside of the two-week window will find themselves out of luck. Dr. Hopkins believes this could cause an increase in health insurance rates as patients will refer to their own health insurance after the 14-day window expires, if they have any. This could cause health insurance rates to sky-rocket and lead to PIP being done away with altogether.
What is evident about the new bill is that, because of the confusing language of the bill, many are confused about the amount of benefits they are entitled to, the proper procedures for filing a new claim, and when it took effect.