Hillsborough County cracks down on staged accident fraud

Sep 21, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on September 21, 2011:

Hillsborough cracks down on staged accident fraud


By Mike Salinero


Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance today to crack down on phony medical clinics associated with staged-accident fraud.

The 7-0 vote brought nearly 100 people in the packed commission chambers to their feet for a standing ovation. Most of those cheering were insurance agents who wore yellow T-shirts that said, “Stop Insurance Fraud.”

The prime architect of the ordinance, Commissioner Kevin Beckner, said the ordinance would prove a model for the rest of the state and would shine a positive light on a county often maligned as a leader in less-coveted categories such as pedestrian deaths and housing foreclosures.

“This is our opportunity to become number one in a positive way,” Beckner said. “We will become the first county in the state to pass such an ordinance.”

Law enforcement officials say Hillsborough County has become a national leader in the fraud which takes advantage of the state-mandated Personal Injury Protection Insurance. Criminals recruit “victims” who are involved in a staged accident. The participants go to the fake clinics which bill insurers the maximum $10,000 per victim allowed under PIP for medical and rehabilitation procedures that never occurred.

Insurance agents told commissioners they are losing business because customers can’t afford their PIP insurance. The premiums have risen rapidly in response to the large payouts to fraudulent clinics, they said.

“Since 2008 I’ve had to reduce my staff by 45 percent,” said insurance agency owner Jeanette Foley. “I cannot get companies to write policies … It’s the PIP fraud that’s causing all this to happen.”

The ordinance will require medical and rehabilitation clinics to designate a physician who actively practices there. The doctor would also have to have his or her name on the clinic’s bank accounts and liability insurance.

Doing this, law enforcement officials say, will close a loophole in state health care law which exempts clinics from licensure regulations when the clinics have a physician’s name on the business application.

The county would have the right to inspect the clinics “as necessary.”

Although most of the attendees were in favor of the ordinance, there were some opponents, including former County Commissioner Brian Blair. Beckner unseated Blair in the 2008 general election. Blair said the ordinance was tantamount to “killing a gnat with a sledgehammer.”

“How does a government have the right to tell a business owner who has to be on their checking account?” Blair said.