Florida Record

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Florida lawsuit climate seen as cost driver for health care outlays


By Michael Carroll | Dec 6, 2019

Insurance 09

Florida’s burdensome legal climate is a big reason why median-wage earners pay a higher share of their household income for health care premiums and deductibles than the U.S. average, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A study released last month by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund found that middle-income earners in Florida shell out $7,925 annually in out-of-pocket health care costs, or 14.5 percent of their pay. In comparison, the average U.S. median-income earner pays $7,388, or 11.5 percent of total annual income.

Other factors, such as a higher average population age than the rest of the nation, also contribute to health care costs in the state. But the state’s financially onerous legal climate is a key reason why Floridians are paying more for health care, Florida Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Edie Ousley said.

“What’s really important for people to understand is that Florida’s median income could be higher if not for lawsuit abuse taxes that cost families about $4,442 each year,” Ousley told the Florida Record.

Civil litigation filed against business and industry around the state raises the costs of goods and services for everyone in Florida, she said.

“Everyone is paying more just because of this lawsuit abuse, and they see it in their health care premiums, when they’re buying groceries and when they’re buying a new pair of shoes,” Ousley said.

Groups such as the American Tort Reform Association place Florida in the bottom tier of states in their rankings of civil litigation environments.

“Florida has one of the worst legal climates in the country,” she said. “We’re in the bottom five. In Florida, billboard trial attorneys and their sue-someone-today tactics are to blame for that.”

The Commonwealth Fund study, which examined out-of-pocket health care costs that median-income earners paid from 2008 to 2018, found that health care premiums for Florida middle-income families last year averaged $5,908, compared to a nationwide average cost of $5,431.

And average employee deductibles in Florida last year amounted to $3,213, compared to $2,992 nationwide.

One area of good news was that middle-income Floridians’ total out-of-pocket health care costs went up only 1.4 percent between 2016 and 2018, while nationally those costs rose 4.4 percent, according to the Commonwealth Fund analysis.

Ousley sees examples of Florida’s “sue-someone” legal climate daily, from the scores of city buses plastered with images of trial attorneys that pass by her office to ubiquitous legal billboard advertising on I-75 and I-95.

“From a business climate standpoint, Florida is the place where jobs are moving to,” she said. “We appreciate that. … But if there was one thing that could be improved to further encourage more jobs to move to Florida, it would be our lawsuit climate.”

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Florida Chamber of CommerceCommonwealth Fund

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