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Op-Ed: Landry needs to sign House Bill 423 into law

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The Louisiana Legislature recently wrapped up its third session of the year. After two special sessions focusing on redistricting and crime, respectively, this regular session was touted as the forum to address Louisiana’s worsening insurance crisis.

Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple proposed a comprehensive package of legal reforms to tackle this crisis, including two transparency bills (House bills 24 and 423) that I am proud to have authored. With a Republican Governor and Republican supermajorities in both chambers, many believed passing these civil justice reforms would be a slam dunk. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

HB 24 would have required a claimant prove their alleged injuries were caused by the accident. After House passage by bipartisan vote of 75-24, HB 24 never made it out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee.

HB 423 also received broad bipartisan support in both chambers. Its fate is now in the hands of Gov. Landry. This bill would revise our current collateral source rule and allow a jury to see both the “sticker price” of the medical bill and the amount that is actually paid by the insurance company. If you’ve ever looked at a medical bill, you know the amount paid by your health insurer is often much less than what they were billed.

Currently, a jury never knows what the insurance company actually paid, and claimants are allowed to recover more money than was actually paid for their medical treatment. The extra money the claimant recovers is not required to be paid to the medical provider, but instead goes to the attorney and the claimant as a windfall.

Both bills would have brought more transparency, fairness and balance to our civil justice system, allowing juries to make judgment decisions based on all available information. Louisiana’s current laws contribute to the current insurance crisis negatively impacting each and every citizen on a daily basis.

A study released late year for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found Louisiana residents experienced personal income losses totaling nearly $3 billion, with every single Louisiana citizen paying a hidden “tort tax” of nearly $1,000 last year.

Additionally, more than 40,500 jobs were lost and more than $230 million was drained from state coffers. Local governments are not immune either, losing more than $192 million in revenues last year attributable to lawsuit abuse.

As my constituents and others from across Louisiana have made clear, both consumers and businesses are being hit hard with the unsustainable costs of insurance.

These costs, coupled with the lack of availability, are forcing many small businesses to relocate to other states with more favorable civil justice climates. Some of these states, like Texas and Florida, have made significant reforms to their civil justice systems and are seeing the benefits.

Now is the time to address the root cause of the crisis. I commend my legislative colleagues and all those who have fought tirelessly for legal reform. I respectfully ask Governor Landry to put hardworking Louisianans first by signing HB 423 and other legal reform measures into law. We cannot wait – our future depends on it.

Rep. Michael Melerine is a Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for District 6 in Caddo Parish.