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Are Massage Therapists Gaming the System?

Michael Peltier, West Orlando News

9/26/2011

A recent surge in waivers from state licensing for massage therapists is being eyed by state officials trying to clamp down on auto crash injury insurance fraud, a working group heard Monday.

Testifying before a working group set up to recommend ways to reduce fraud in personal injury protection, or PIP insurance, Agency for Health Care Administration manager Roger Bell said an increase in unlicensed therapists may be partly responsible for increased fraud.

A report submitted by AHCA to the working group said “the issue may be casually related to the increase in questionable PIP claims.”

Miami-Dade County continues to lead in the number of massage therapists seeking exemption from AHCA licensing requirements. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of exemptions granted rose from 12 to 251. For 2011, the number is expected to reach 362, according to AHCA estimates.

Hillsborough County also experienced a drastic increase in the number of exemptions being sought between 2005 and 2010, increasing from 43 to 115. Applications for exemptions this year are expected to drop to 57.

Law enforcement officers have become increasingly aware that some unlicensed massage therapy clinics are billing insurers for treatment that’s not legitimate, part of rings of providers billing companies for treatment for faked injuries, often in staged crashes.

Just in June of this year the Hillsborough County Sheriff announced the arrest of 53 individuals at a couple of unlicensed massage therapy clinics in the Bay area.

Some therapists get exemptions from licensing for multiple clinics. Once an exemption is granted, the massage therapist is not required to renew it.

But even if the exemptions were not granted, the state would still be unable to adequately inspect all the sites.

“While it is the right thing to do, I don’t think we have enough resources at this point to do that,” Bell said.

Car insurance customers in Florida have seen increases in premiums in some cases approaching 100 percent in the last five years or so, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty told Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet during their regular meeting in August.

A 25-year-old male driver in Tampa, for instance, on average, has seen his car insurance premiums go from $340 in 2005 to $629 this year, McCarty said.

Much of that increase, McCarty said, comes from losses due to PIP fraud. Scott then directed McCarty to work with lawmakers to craft a reform package for the upcoming session.

The working group is expected to file a report in November to the Legislature, which may use the group’s findings to draft proposals.