When I first started practicing acupuncture, the most common question a potential client would ask was, “Can acupuncture help with my neck pain/upset stomach/migraines?” Fifteen years later, that question has become “Do you take insurance?”
Is this good or bad? The traditional Chinese answer is, of course, “both and neither.” It might be considered a sign of “progress” that acupuncture is now understood to be an effective intervention for many signs and symptoms of physical and emotional disharmony. On the other hand, how many of you reading this feel that your insurance company cares about your best interests? Your optimal well-being? Your health care providers? One of my colleagues likens joining insurance networks to trying to grab the last deck chair on the Titanic.
My colleagues and I discuss the implications of joining an insurance network, becoming a “preferred provider,” and hiring a biller to handle the resulting avalanche of paperwork ad nauseum. It is not an easy choice to make. When we think about putting the patient first, we have to think about ALL of our patients. What would the impact of joining an insurance network with corresponding lower reimbursement rates, new administrative burdens of electronic filing (including expensive data encryption requirements), and delayed reimbursement, have on our patients who are NOT covered? I want to spend my time doing acupuncture, not filling out forms. And I want to keep my rates as low as I can. For everyone. On the other hand, if a patient is paying an insurance premium which covers acupuncture, isn’t it only right that I work within that system so that s/he can get what they are paying for?
To date, my office policy has been to require payment in full from my patients at the time my services are provided. I complete a form that my patients can submit to their insurance company for reimbursement IF THEIR PLAN COVERS ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT! I offer a credit card payment option to help bridge the time delay between receipt submission and payment for services. I am hopeful that this form will expedite the process for my patients who are submitting claims to their insurance companies. At this point in time, I am not convinced that it is in the best interest of my patient population and the vision I hold of my acupuncture practice to join an insurance network.