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Bill Takes on Unlicensed Health Clinics

There is one simple way for a Florida medical clinic to avoid being licensed and undergoing an annual inspection: Don't accept insurance.

A bill moving through the Legislature would close that loophole for so-called cash-only clinics, which can escape government oversight because the statutory definition of a clinic is interpreted as an operation that takes third-party insurance.

The bill (SB 746) sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, would require that all medical clinics be subject to licensure, renewal and inspection, whether they accept insurance or not.

Many of the cash-only clinics are run by business people with no connection to the medical field, but must hire a licensed doctor to oversee the operation and sign prescriptions. Because the clinics aren't licensed, the state doesn't know how many exist.

"There is no regulation of clinics, it truly is the Wild West out there," said Kenneth Woliner, a Boca Raton physician who thinks the clinics should be regulated. He said finding clinics that run without oversight is simple: The places open, treat patients and then quickly move on. The doctors who are hired to run the clinics are often "older doctors and they just need money and don't care," he said.

Sobel's bill is moving slowly, if at all. She looks at the disinterest in the statehouse as a problem of regionalism. Most of the unlicensed clinics are in her district and other parts of South Florida, so getting legislators from other parts of the state interested is difficult.