Florida Bill Aims to Close Cash Only Medical Clinic Loophole

By STEVE MILLER | March 26, 2014

Cash-only medical clinics are allowed to skirt the licensing and regulation most other clinics are subject to, a loophole that a Florida lawmaker contends allows some of them to dispense drugs illicitly.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, addresses the secrecy in these clinics, which don’t accept Medicare or insurance payments, in a measure that sailed through the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice on Monday.

Her measure (SB 746) would require such clinics to be licensed by the state Agency for Health Care Administration and subject to state inspection. It would also make all clinics subject to applicable criminal penalties for allowing a doctor whose license is suspended or revoked to practice.

The bill is aimed at storefronts that open after procuring the support of a rogue doctor. They dispense drugs – steroids, human growth hormone and sometimes pills – and when law enforcement closes in, they leave.

“Once these clinics are closed down, they just move on to another location and do the same thing all over again,” Sobel explained. “They don’t have to be licensed; they take cash. This whole thing about allowing a clinic to operate without a license has to stop.”

She noted that these clinics often operate as anti-aging facilities.

Under current law, a person opening a cash clinic can fill out an application and pay a $100 exemption fee.

Cash-only clinic exemptions do not expire and do not require renewal, agency spokesman Jamie Sowers said in an email.

The agency uses the same database as the public to verify the license of the medical professional who is heading a clinic. Sowers declined to answer whether the same check is done for cash-only clinics, although he added that “if the law passes as it is currently written, the agency will extend this verification process to include the individuals who oversee health clinics accepting cash-only payments as they are defined in statute.”

The cash-only loophole in the law has allowed some clinics that offer illicit steroids and human growth hormone to flourish in the state, particularly in South Florida, where Biogenesis of America was able to operate. Biogenesis was sued last year by Major League Baseball for allegedly providing performance-enhancing drugs to some players, but the suit was dropped last month.

Many of the suspect clinics are opened by business figures who then hire licensed doctors and other medical professionals to work in the clinics, or in some cases simply lend their name, to give the clinic credibility.

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