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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Honest clinics need to fight this crime, too

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Published:   |   Updated: August 18, 2013 at 08:17 AM

For a while, it was one of Tampa’s largest industries. I’m talking about faked and exaggerated accidents ... staged accidents designed to collect huge insurance payoffs.

We were so good at it we led the state in payoffs.

The way it works is that the bad guys, and in most instances they were organized bad guys, would stage an auto accident. They would then go to certain health clinics where they would obtain bogus medical diagnoses and get authorization to receive unnecessary medical treatment.

In Florida, all motorists are required to carry Personal Injury Protection insurance for $10,000, which is where they would go for payment.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott suggested PIP fraud in Florida alone was costing us more than $1 billion. Critics have questioned his methodology in adding up the losses, but nobody is questioning that the staged accidents and fraudulent health clinics are costing us a heap of money.

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In September of 2011, Hillsborough County passed an ordinance focusing on the clinics. It required, among other things, that they tighten their own rules and identify the responsible physician as well as provide information on its employees.

As a result, many of the clinics closed and, according to Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who pushed for the ordinance, the number of staged accidents in Hillsborough County decreased 62 percent.

Well, and you could have seen this coming, it was all too good to be true. First, a judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the ordinance, and now the state’s Second Court of Appeal has upheld the injunction.

Rob Brazel, the county managing attorney of the litigation division, told Tribune reporter Mike Salinero that there “... is no further avenue to go, to the State Supreme Court or anyplace else.”

Brazel added that the county will look to amend the ordinance, although Luke Lirot, the attorney for the plaintiffs (about 25 clinics, a number of doctors and a chiropractor) said, “I would certainly opine that the nature of the circuit court’s opinion means the writing is on the wall. There is no legislative way the county commission can repair this misguided effort.”

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Hillsborough Detective Larry McKinnon, a veteran who knows what’s going on in this county, admitted it was frustrating but said, “We are going to continue to focus on this issue. There are organized criminals and it is costing Florida and Hillsborough County tens of millions of dollars.

“Well we’re not giving up,” Beckner added. “We’re not going back to square one on this.

“Look, these aren’t Joe and John operations. These are organized crime rings. We are going to continue to work with our legal people and with the Sheriff’s Office and we won’t be giving up the impact we have already had on dealing with this issue.”

What seems odd to me is that there are obviously reputable clinics in Hillsborough County and around the state.

They may have a point that the county is overreaching what should be a state responsibility. But they should also have an interest not only in eliminating the fraudulent operations that taint everyone, but in establishing their own reputations, which they have not.

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