Physician referral services focus of Florida insurance investigation

State insurance officials are investigating auto accident referral services to see if bogus or excessive treatments are illegally inflating Floridians' insurance premiums.

Auto accident shenanigans have been rampant in Florida for years, said Capt. Steve Smith of the Department of Financial Services' insurance fraud division.

People stage crashes and get kickbacks from clinics that bill insurers for fake treatments, Smith said Thursday. Or a clinic simply overtreats a patient who had legitimate injuries — for example, ordering six tests when two would do.

Some referral services "are basically just a new twist on an old scheme,'' Smith said. They steer clients directly, or through lawyers, to clinics that run up excessive bills.

Florida has about 70 such referral services, which have popped up in the past three or four years, Smith said.

"Some clinics are blanketing the airways and billboards, sometimes with deceptive advertising'' leading people to think they will collect cash from accidents, Smith said. "They don't make it clear to people that the benefit is not going to end up in their pocket. It's going to end up in the pockets of clinics and lawyers.''

Florida is a no-fault insurance state with at least the first $10,000 in treatments being covered by each car owner's mandatory Personal Injury Protection insurance.

From 2008 through 2010, PIP premiums for the average Tampa Bay area driver rose 81 percent, according to state estimates. Smith said a large part of that increase stemmed from fraudulent claims.

Smith declined to identify which referral services are under investigation. Bloomberg News reported Thursday that a network of clinics associated with 1-800-ASKGARY is among those under scrutiny, quoting two anonymous sources "with direct knowledge of the investigation.''

Ask Gary was founded by Sarasota chiropractor Gary Kompothecras, who also founded Physicians Group, a chain of clinics catering to car accident victims. The state fairgrounds amphitheater bears the company's name.

Physicians Group "has not been contacted by any local, state or federal investigative agency or received any other indication that Physicians Group or ASK GARY is under investigation by anybody,'' said Sarasota attorney Greg Zitani, who represents the companies.

Company clinics have treated tens of thousands of patients and never had a malpractice claim, he said.

As for the Bloomberg report, Zitani suggested that the insurance industry has launched an attack because it doesn't want patients to get the level of treatment they deserve.

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at (727) 893-8442 or at nohlgren@sptimes.com.

Physician referral services focus of Florida insurance investigation 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 10:46pm]

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