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Unscrupulous pain clinics to blame for auto insurance fraud

Unscruplous pain clinics have come under fire for frivolously handing out prescription drugs. But they also are part of the reason Tampa and Miami lead the nation in auto insurance fraud, experts told the House banking and insurance committee today.

"It is a cottage industry. It is organized crime, and it is affecting Florida's ability to keep rates reasonable for consumers," said Alan Haskins, director of government affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.  Estimates are that a so-called "fraud tax" adds $100 to the auto insurance policy of two-car famillies in Florida. Ron Poindexter, also of the NICB, said in Hillsborough County authorities are investigating a network of 60 clinics and 100 people who are "stealing" $4 million a month from insurers. 

Thousands of clinics in Florida target their advertising to automobile accident victims telling them they are "entitled" to collect up to $10,000 through their personal injury protection policies, said John Askins, who heads the state's division of insurance fraud in CFO Jeff Atwater's office.  And in many cases, accidents are staged by clinic operators simply to collect that money from insurance companies.

"These are highly sophisticed fraud rings," Askins said.  "Some of these clinics are just driven by staged accidents. That's all they do."

The staged accidents, he said, drain local law enforcement resources, requiring them to spend time writing reports because a "bunch of criminals are setting up accidents" instead of protecting their communities. "And this is happening at a time when police departments are cutting their budgets. There should be public outrage on this point alone," Askins said. He asked the committee to advocate for money to pay for dedicated prosecutors to attack the problem.

Committee chair Bryan Nelson, a Republican from Apopka, said before making that case he wanted to see evidence that money directed last year to Hillsborough County to fight PIP fraud had made a difference.