Photos of an acupuncturist in a prison jumpsuit, bond reduced to $455,000, facing charges of racketeering, insurance fraud, engaging in an organized scheme to defraud, patient brokering, and unlawfully waiving copays and deductibles. It’s bad for the profession.
It’s worse when the acupuncturist taught insurance billing seminars.
Whether or not she is ultimately found innocent, I’m sure none of us want to be in her shoes. Let’s learn what we can from the case, and from the discussions about it happening on social media and elsewhere.
My takeaways –
- There are wonderful, respected, kind, people who engage in criminal activity. Encomiums about the accused show us humans aren’t one-dimensional, but are irrelevant to guilt or innocence.
- Insurance billing is no game, despite books, seminars, and conversations presenting it as one.
- As a profession (the community acupuncture folks being the main exception), we haven’t accepted the conflict between wanting people to get as many acupuncture treatments as we think appropriate/they desire, earning what we “deserve”, practicing in our preferred style, and the overall health care economy. We grabbed insurance as the savior. It isn’t.
- It is easy to rationalize wrongdoing. Practitioners justify creative billing to help their clients or counteract an unfair system. That’s bad for our profession, personally risky, and, because “insurance money” comes from people buying insurance, ultimately costly to anyone buying insurance. If a plan doesn’t cover acupuncture for depression, explaining that to your clients, and giving them a discount if you’d like, is honest. Believing that the insurance company is forcing you to figure out a way to “treat them for pain so it gets covered” is dishonest.
- If you want to advocate for better coverage, be prepared with data to show the economic benefits. Do you want your premiums to cover other non-medically necessary choices? Who should decide?
- We need to be honest when discussing the efficacy and cost of acupuncture. Many practice websites, and much of our lobbying for increased coverage, refer to a course of treatment of eight to twelve visits. If an average of almost forty treatments/year, as in this case, is appropriate “for today’s complex patients” (as many commenters stated) we need to own that. If it varies based on condition (of course it does), let’s make sure we let patients and insurance companies know. If you are treating for a complex condition, but code for a simple one to facilitate reimbursement, you’re skewing the data about acupuncture efficacy.
- There are lots of acupuncturists eager to give definitive answers to questions outside their area of expertise. Having a successful insurance-based business does not make one an expert on insurance law.
- Our burdensome systems for approving CEU/PDA classes don’t provide quality control.
- Having demanded entry to the system, we owe it to ourselves (as consumers and providers) to speak up when we see wrongdoing. We need to acknowledge that our colleagues who review charts and advise insurance companies are necessary if we are going to be part of the system. It’s a bad sign when those within the profession who work to protect the consumer are dismissed as the enemy. The insurance companies will find problems even without our participation.
- Context is important when determining legality. Patterns of individually legal actions (in this case, waiving co-pays was permissible) can add up to illegal activity.
Being a health care provider is serious business. Participating in the insurance system is serious business. Let’s be careful out there.
(And the sad conclusion of this case, July 29, 2020.)