Fighting Fraudulent Car Accidents, Part 1: Florida
Two people get in a car accident in a parking lot. Afterwards they go to a clinic to get treated for injuries. It’s not an uncommon scenario. But what if it’s a fraud?
Accidents often get staged, and treatment for nonexistent injuries meted out in order to scam insurance companies. It’s an illegal practice that generates massive amounts of revenue yearly, especially in Florida. The Sunshine State has three of the five American cities where this type of fraudulent accident is most common: Tampa, Miami, and Orlando.
Between 2007 and 2009, over 3,000 staged managed accidents were reported in Florida, more than double the number found in New York, which ranked number two. The thing that’s really surprising, though, is the fact that the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud tops in the nation for both arrests and conviction of these scam artists.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has recently begun a campaign to put some brakes on the rampant problem. He detailed some of his objectives in a recent piece for The St. Petersburg Times (via TampaBay.com):
During the coming legislative session, I am proposing the following policy solutions:
- Strengthen billing practices so only appropriate services rendered are covered, curtailing the incentive for kickbacks and improper referrals.
- Create civil penalties for those convicted of automobile insurance fraud, the proceeds of which will be used to fund additional antifraud efforts.
- Require law officers to list all passengers in accident reports to eliminate fraud perpetrators from later claiming passengers.
- Address litigation costs that drive up the costs of auto insurance for Floridians.
- Tighten requirements for clinic ownership.
I wonder how much this is spurred by the arrest at the beginning of March of no less than 25 people in the Miami-Dade area? Those arrests were made at the New Horizon Practice, described by the State as an accident clinic where therapists fill out paperwork for insurance claims for phony car wrecks. [See “Dozens Arrested in Auto Insurance Fraud,” WSVN-TV.]
Atwater is not alone in his crusade, as Aaron Sharockman, a writer for The St. Petersburg Times, points out:
Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Manatee, propose SB 1930 and HB 1411, which, among other things, would increase penalties for medical providers who participate in auto accident fraud, require law enforcement to conduct a more thorough investigation of an auto accident and give insurance companies more time to investigate suspicious claims.
This was a big issue in the 2007 session, when then-House Speaker Marco Rubio said he would let the mandatory insurance coverage expire unless more antifraud measures were enacted.
Rubio gave in after a compromise bill limited prices some medical facilities and doctors can charge insurers for nonemergency care and required that PIP clinics be owned or overseen by licensed doctors.
There is a long way to go on this matter, and Florida has the worst of it, but progress can be made. Fraudulentaccidents are highly profitable for the scammers who get away with them, but it costs everyone else money. There is no legal requirement for insurance companies to just sit there and take the loss, which gets passed on to everyone else’s insurance premiums.
While Florida may have it the worst, it is far from the only hot spot. In our next post, we will take a look at the similar outrage and the measures being taken to fight auto insurance fraud in New York state.