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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Suit claims 'Ask Gary' is exempt from crackdown

TAMPA - A new county ordinance would unfairly drive some auto accident clinics out of business, but give clinics affiliated with the 1-800-ASK GARY hot line a free pass, a lawsuit says. Those accusations are leveled in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by two branches of Doctor's Pain Management Group and a third group called Health West Rehabilitation Group. Hillsborough County and Sheriff David Gee are named in the suit. The clinics hope to stop the county from enforcing a new ordinance meant to crack down on staged auto accidents. Fake accidents cost auto insurance policyholders an extra $50 per year locally because the clinics routinely bill Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, insurers, the ordinance says. But in their lawsuit, the clinics say the new ordinance will drive legitimate clinics out of business.
One new requirement, for example, says all PIP medical clinics must be operated by a physician. That rule "immediately puts the plaintiffs out of business," the lawsuit says, because they are not licensed physicians but are licensed to run health care clinics. Each clinic company does employ at least one physician, their lawsuit says. Doctor's Pain Management Group operates clinics in Tampa and Brandon, and Health West Rehabilitation operates a clinic in Tampa. The clinics also bristle at a new requirement that a physician must be a signatory on the clinic company's bank account and liability insurance paperwork. Hillsborough County believes the new ordinance is constitutional, said Rob Brazel, a managing attorney in the county attorney's office. "It really only matters what the judge is going to say," Brazel said. One clinic apparently excused from the ordinance is Physicians Group, the chain that gets many of its clients from the 1-800-ASK-GARY legal and medical referral service, the suit says. The ordinance doesn't pertain to clinic companies accredited by the Joint Commission, a nationwide nonprofit that accredits healthcare companies. Physicians Group is the only outpatient/ambulatory care clinic in Hillsborough County accredited by this commission, the lawsuit says. "Why would a single entity get the benefit of the doubt in legislation that is supposed to target an entire industry?" Luke Lirot, the plaintiffs' attorney, said Tuesday. County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who pushed for the ordinance, acknowledged that he spoke with a lobbyist for Physicians Group. The lobbyist proposed exempting companies certified by the Joint Commission, because that certification implies some prestige and respectability, Beckner said. However, Beckner denied that only clinics tied to 1-800-ASK-GARY could be exempt from the new regulations. Doctor's Pain Management Group and Health West Rehabilitation claim the new ordinance violates state and federal law, and they ask a judge to keep the county from enforcing it.

Tribune reporter Mike Salinero contributed to this report. msasso@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7865
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