Mangano: Make insurance scams a felony

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 23, 2011)

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (March 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is urging the passage of state legislation that would crack down on con artists and unscrupulous doctors caught cheating New York's "no fault" auto-insurance laws.

Nassau and Suffolk residents pay 130 percent more for auto coverage than drivers across the nation, largely due to no-fault insurance fraud, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry think tank. Those taking part in such frauds could face felony counts, rather than misdemeanors, and if a doctor is involved he or she could be decertified.

"It's absurd," Mangano said. "Criminals are driving up the cost of insurance. Now, we have a chance to bring some sanity to the system."

The scam works like this, authorities say: motorists stage auto accidents, complete with phony injuries, to collect on their insurance policies. The individuals, often with the assistance of compliant doctors and lawyers, then bill the insurance companies for their medical and hospital reimbursements, workers' comp and disability.

Those caught gaming the system now face misdemeanor charges. But the so-called Fraud Tax Bill, sponsored by state Sens. James Seward (R-Milford) and Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) would make cheating the no-fault laws a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Assemb. Joseph Morelle (D-Irondequoit) has sponsored companion legislation in the Assembly.

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The State Senate bill, which is making its way through the Senate Insurance Committee, would allow the state to decertify medical providers who commit insurance fraud; allow insurers longer than the existing 30 days to investigate suspicious claims and to send disputed no-fault claims to an arbitrator, rather than a judge.

Statewide, New Yorkers pay an average of 53 percent more for auto insurance than drivers across the country, the Insurance Information Institute said.

If the situation is not fixed, insurance companies may pull out of the state, said Rafe Lieber, executive director of New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud, an advocacy group.

The reforms, which are opposed by the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, could cause delays in the processing of some legitimate no-fault claims, Lieber said.

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