* Contractors will be forbidden to dangle perks for luring homeowners into signing potentially unfair repair contracts under a bill the Kentucky governor signed this week. The Coalition is part of an alliance that pushed for passage. Contractors cannot offer gifts, rebates or referral fees of more than $100. Damaging a roof to land the repair job also will be a specific crime. And homeowners can sue contractors for damage. They’d receive twice the value of the loss, plus attorney fees. The bill takes effect in late June.
* Fake reporters for equally bogus trade newsletters will be denied access to police crash reports in Kentucky. The Coalition-backed alliance also supported this bill, which cleared the statehouse. Mainstream reporters already can legally get crash reports to write news stories. Yet some tiny trade newsletters supposedly for medical providers and attorneys, for example, are mere fronts. Shysters pretending they’re journalists get the reports to identify and hound crash victims into inflated injury treatment with little medical value. Auto insurers pay the large tabs. The governor is expected to sign shortly.
* Georgia legislators are taking the air out of airbag scams. The statehouse passed a bill making marketing and installing phony airbags a misdemeanor. The Coalition worked with Honda America for passage. Dishonest body shops install junk airbags during vehicle repairs. The cheap counterfeits won’t deploy in crashes, placing motorists’ lives at risk. Insurers are billed full freight for knockoffs that cost just a few dollars on the black market. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law shortly, Coalition sources say.
* Consumers would be vulnerable to fake health coverage under a bill that passed the U.S. House this week. HR 1101 would exempt association health plans from state and federal consumer protections. The bill passed on a near-partisan vote this week as part of the intended Obamacare rollback. The Coalition plans to vigorously oppose the consumer-unfriendly bill. Scammers have used such oversight voids to sell fake health coverage. The stuff was peddled as affordable group health plans, though the sponsoring associations or unions were phony. Consumers were stuck with huge bills after their bogus plans refused to cover expensive hospital procedures. Consumer groups widely oppose the bill. Dissolving oversight opens the door for weak health coverage for small businesses and individual consumers. The bill heads to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Nearly identical measures have stalled in recent years.
* The statute of limitations for investigating fraud cases in Colorado would be expanded under a bill that cleared the statehouse. The 3-year clock would start ticking when the fraud crime is discovered. The current 3-year statute starts when the scheme is committed. Insurers often unearth suspected schemes well after the fact. This is especially true with crash rings and other complex scams. Starting the clock when the crime is discovered would give insurers more time to build a strong case for prosecution. The bill also would clarify immunity to include agencies such as NICB that report fraud. The measure heads to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.
* Containing contractor abuse of assigned insurance benefits is the focus of a bill a Florida House Committee has moved. It would strengthen consumer protection against dishonest contractors who lure homeowners into assigning insurance benefits to them. Among the bill’s consumer protections: give homeowners up to 7 days to rescind an AOB they’ve signed, without penalties or fees ... require contractors to provide written, itemized cost estimates for their work ... and require AOB agreements to have prominent notices warning homeowners they give up rights that may result in a lawsuit against their insurer. AOB abuse is so widespread that homeowner premiums are rising in areas of Florida. Stopping AOB deception is a high priority of the state CFO, insurers and legislative leaders this session.
* Civil fraud penalties would be expanded by a bill in Minnesota. SF 1344/HF 1443 clarifies that an administrative penalty could be imposed for each attempted fraud. The insurance department thus would gain more authority to target fraud rings. The Coalition helped draft the original law giving the department civil fining authority. Insurer restitution for investigation costs also would be added. Drivers who file auto crash reports would have their identity protected as well. This would prevent scammers from tracking down crash victims and luring them for bogus injury treatment.
* Workers-comp premium scams are targeted in a bill looking to reform Alaska’s workers-comp system. SB 40/HB 79 clearly defines an independent contractor. This would put the squeeze on firms that avoid proper comp premiums by falsely defining workers as independent contractors. The bill defines independent contractors thusly: maintains a separate business license ... livelihood doesn’t depend exclusively or primarily on a single firm. ... must have a federal tax ID ... and has filed business or self-employment taxes. The reform effort is a high priority for the governor. The statehouse will be in session through mid-May.
* Healthcare anti-fraud efforts would get a boost from the Trump Administration’s requested HHS funding for FY 2018. The federal agency’s anti-fraud funding would be $751 million — an increase of $70 million over FY 2017. The money would support the agency’s Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. The administration seeks a 23-percent overall reduction of HHS spending. The FY 2018 request is $65.1 billion, down from $84.6 billion in FY 2016. These requests, however, are just the first step in what will be a heated debate.
* Homeowners would gain important protections against dishonest contractors when Kentucky’s governor signs a bill as expected. Contractors would be forbidden to offer gifts, rebates or referral fees of more than $100. Damaging a roof to land the repair job also would be a specific crime. And homeowners could sue contractors for damage. They’d receive twice the value of the actual loss plus attorney fees. The bill stemmed from an advisory committee created by fraud fighters. The Coalition is a founding member. “The property owner already has been victimized by the storms that damage their homes and properties,” the Coalition wrote Gov. Matt Bevin. “We should protect consumers from being victimized again by shady contractors.”
* Tightening abuse of auto crash reports is the welcome thrust of a bill in the Arkansas House. HB 1403 would limit access to crash victims or their reps for 30 days after the crash report is filed. Crooks access the reports to identify and track down crash victims for bogus whiplash treatment. News media also could have access under the bill. Fake news outlets such as tiny newsletters by sleazy attorneys and medical providers would be excluded. They create worthless little newsletters then claim access to crash reports as so-called journalists. “Restricting access protects the privacy of Arkansans since third parties would not have access to the information during immediate time period after the accident,” the Coalition wrote the bill sponsor.
* Workers-comp premium fraud plotters are targeted by a Texas bill. HB 2053 would give the state comp commission more authority to investigate schemes. The commission could maintain an investigation unit to hunt down fraud and assist prosecutors. Subpoena power to compel attendance and testimony for investigations also would be added to the commission’s authority. The bill connects the investigating of comp fraud to the state labor code, which defines and houses penalties.
* A task force to probe workers-comp premium fraud is being discussed in the Indiana statehouse. SB 463 is an umbrella comp reform bill that includes the task-force provision. The new unit would investigate the trend of premium scams in the state, and recommend reforms. Lowballing payroll and staff size to avoid paying full comp premiums is a problem in Indiana. Employees have no comp coverage if they’re injured. Premium evaders also cheat honest businesses out of contracts by using the premium savings to unfairly underbid for contracts.
* If you’re a reporter for a trade newsletter and want to get police crash reports in Kentucky — forget it. That’s the upshot of a state House-passed bill clarifying the definition of news organizations allowed to obtain the reports. Mainstream reporters can legally get crash reports to write news stories. Some tiny trade newsletters supposedly for medical providers and attorneys, for example, are mere fronts. Shysters pretending they’re journalists get the reports to identify and hound crash victims into getting inflated injury treatment with little medical value. The Coalition belongs to a state working group that strongly supports the bill.
* Marketing and installing counterfeit airbags would be a specific misdemeanor that the Georgia House is on the verge of approving. The House must move the bill by the end of this week. That’s the deadline for sending bills to another chamber. The Coalition continues working with Honda America for airbag laws this year. Dishonest body shops install junk bags that don’t open in crashes, thus threatening motorist lives. Insurers are billed full freight for knockoffs that cost just a few dollars on the black market. In related news … the Massachusetts legislature will consider a similar airbag bill this session. Wrongdoers would face $5,000 fine and/or up to 5 years in jail.
* Contractors, attorneys or others who lure homeowners into signing over management of their claims will be targeted by a reform bill when the Florida legislature opens its 60-day session March 7. Whoever was assigned insurance benefits would have to keep homeowners informed of the claim’s progress. Deceitful contractors working on storm-damaged homes, for instance, take over a claim and secretly inflate billings. They also may sue the insurer, all behind the homeowner’s back. The looting has grown so acute that it’s raising homeowner premiums in much of Florida. That has made lassoing this unsavory practice a top legislative priority for 2017.
* The Coalition’s Howard Goldblatt will update insurance legislators about the need for tougher laws and regs targeting workers-comp premium schemes. Goldblatt will speak at NCOIL’s spring meeting. Construction firms hide employees in shell firms, then tell their comp insurer that they have far fewer employees than they really have. Smaller staff and payroll can greatly lower comp premiums. Cheaters use the illegal savings to underbid competitors for contracts. This skews the playing field and damages honest businesses that play by the rules.
* The South Carolina legislature is moving forward with an effort to double the state’s anti-fraud funding. SB 269 has cleared 1 hurdle, with more coming before the session closes at the end of May. The bills (HB 3410 is the House companion) would set a minimum appropriation of $400,000 — double the current minimum. There’s also a $500,000 maximum, though with limited discretion to exceed the max. Current law imposes a strict $500,000 cap.
* Shady contractors are in the sights of the Kentucky legislature. SB 128 would restrict contractors from offering gifts, rebates or referral fees in excess of $100 to induce property owners to sign repair contracts. Damaging a roof to land the repair job also would be illegal. Property owners also could sue contractors for damage, and receive twice the value of the actual loss plus attorney fees. The bill unanimously passed the Senate and is under review by the House. The bill came out of an advisory committee created by fraud fighters in the state after the 2016 session. The Coalition is a member of the committee.
* Public adjusters would be boxed out of illicitly taking over claims and settling them under a bill being considered in Maryland. HB 136 would flat-out prohibit public adjusters from being involved in settling the insured’s claims, or settling claims among insurers. Adjuster commissions also would be limited if the insurer pays, or commits to pay, a claim within 72 hours after the loss.
* Requirements for insurers to submit fraud plans to Florida regulators would be expanded under 2 bills a legislator has introduced. SB 1012 requires insurers to have an anti-fraud plan or contract for investigative services. Insurers also must notify the state fraud bureau of their key anti-fraud contact person. Detailed reporting to the state also is spelled out in the bill. SB 1014 says fraud plans filed with the state aren’t open to the public under the state’s strict open-records law. Both bills were crafted by the Division of Investigative & Forensic Services. Insurers plan to offer clarifying changes, Coalition sources say. The 60-day session opens March 7.