ADVOCATE FOR MASSAGE THERAPY AS A RECOGNIZED & RESPECTED HEALTHCARE PROFESSION
by Elizabeth Jane Brooks, LMT, BCTMB
Here at WSMTA, our goal is to promote and ensure the accessibility and financial viability of massage therapy as a reimbursed healthcare service and to provide resources to support practitioners. We have a strong desire to protect your interests and assist where we can.
Whenever we work with health insurance companies, use our computers for patients, work from our homes, or are injured on the job, there are some vulnerabilities that we’d like to bring to your attention—and their possible solutions.
Working with Health Insurance
In Washington State we are quite fortunate in being able to contract with health insurance companies. This is especially beneficial for our patients, as it can significantly reduce their out-of-pocket costs—and it is also great for massage therapists, as it may expand their practice and provide a steadier paycheck. For those early in their career, it can be of particular benefit: being in-network with an insurance company can bring many referrals, providing ample experience and filling your practice with new patients. Even experienced practitioners might use insurance as a stepping-stone, switching over to cash once they no longer need the referrals and demand allows for better pay.
However, working with insurance does have costs: lower rates, overworking, and post-payment audit risk.
To work with insurance, we must sign contracts accepting a reduced rate for our services in exchange for the many referrals that come from being one of their listed providers. These referrals are a definite benefit, but we are not able to enjoy this benefit to the same degree as a physician, nurse practitioner, or physical therapist who can see numerous patients in any given hour. In contrast, our work is physically taxing and takes at least one hour with the patient on the table—with additional time for the patient to get dressed, take payment, and rebook; extensive cleaning and disinfecting; resetting the room for the next patient; charting/report writing and billing. Several of our WSMTA members estimate that for every hour of work on the table there is often roughly one hour off the table.
Consequently, for many practitioners the major advantage of contracting with health insurance is how the referrals give us greater job security. As we gain experience we build up long waiting lists, and often end up unsustainably working nonstop for these lower reimbursement rates in an attempt to keep up with the demand. Fortunately, some of these patients will turn into cash clients when they have exhausted their benefits, or when coming in for a non-covered service (such as relaxation or maintenance massage).
When we contract with health insurance carriers, we agree to post-payment audits where the carrier can request chart notes and supporting documentation going back, on average, 1–2 years, and occasionally up to 10 years. During an audit, insurance auditors review your chart notes to see if everything charted matches with the referral and all necessary information is on it. Should the audit show any discrepancies or missing information, you are asked to retroactively repay the monies for the particular charts in error. If a massage therapist has been charting incorrectly in some way for years, the repayment for the incorrect charts can be so costly that the therapist’s practice may not survive.
Post-Payment Audit Insurance
This potential is the reason behind the search for post-payment audit insurance, also known as medical defense insurance. While common coverage for a physician, it has been difficult to find for massage therapists because we are relatively new to billing health insurance. Washington is one of the few states that allow us to bill health insurance companies, but as massage is increasingly recognized as effective healthcare, more states are positioned to join us, and more insurance companies are hopefully coming on board soon.
With so few companies providing this coverage, the quest has not been easy. The author of this article, for example, spent over a year communicating back and forth with different insurance companies trying to convince them to cover massage therapists. These included ABMP, AMTA, MMIP, Hands on Trade, and many more companies less known to massage therapists. She eventually found an excellent insurance agent, Christina Haranda at American West Insurance Agency (listed in the resources below). Christina went above and beyond in finding the coverage we need. She found MEDEFENSE coverage through Tokio Marine HCC, which is protection for healthcare professionals covering exposures—such as billing error proceedings through both government and private payers, as well as HIPAA and other regulatory proceedings.
MEDEFENSE coverage includes reimbursement of defense costs, fines, penalties, shadow audit expenses, including qui tam actions (filing false claims for funds from the government programs), HIPAA proceedings, EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Advanced Labor Act) proceedings, and STARK (self-referral and anti-kickback law) proceedings. Coverage limits go up to $1,000,000 each claim and a policy general aggregate up to $5,000,000. The minimum deductible is $1,000 and there is a minimum premium of $1,200 for a one year policy. Full prior acts coverage is also available.
In short, MEDEFENSE covers the defense of an audit, but not any monies due to be repaid to the insurance company due to fraud, errors, and/or omissions. This coverage includes a shadow audit—an audit where you hire an independent auditor to go over your charts, which can reduce the amount needed to repay an insurance company. It will also reimburse legal fees, fines, penalties and the previously mentioned proceedings. It is expensive for the average massage therapist; however, in the event you are wrongly accused of fraud, errors, or omissions and the insurance carrier is asking for $25,000–$100,000, it would be money well spent.
Another suggestion is to hire an independent auditor to review your charts before you are audited—it can be especially helpful if you can find an auditor experienced with massage coding and charting. To find an auditor, many have found it helpful to search local hospitals or large clinics.
Cyber Liability Insurance
Tokio Marine also offers cyber liability insurance coverage which can be bundled with MEDEFENSE or purchased separately. Cyber insurance covers your business liability in case of a data breach of sensitive patient information—this can be a breach of any files containing personal identity information, health and/or financial records. Additional items covered are legal expenses, negotiation and payment of ransomware demands, plus restoration of data. It should cover both your business and third parties (i.e. your patients). Some questions to ask yourself to determine your vulnerability are:
Do you email medical information?
Do you keep any patient medical information on your computer, tablet, or cell phone?
Do you keep any patient financial records on your computer, tablet, or cell phone?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, cyber liability insurance is worth considering.
Homeowners & Renters Insurance
There are quite a few LMTs that work in their homes rather than in a business office space. Some insurance companies have a problem with this, as the lines between what is business and what is personal can become blurred, potentially increasing claims. In these situations, the insurance company is concerned with patients injured on the premises pursuing both our business liability insurance and our homeowners/renters insurance, and because of this it can be difficult to find coverage for these circumstances. Thankfully, the following insurance companies are favorable to those of us that work from home (sometimes through an additive “umbrella” policy): MetLife, Travelers, Country Financial, and in some cases Allstate.
Disability insurance can be difficult to find as a massage therapist because the injury rate is significant in our field. However, Crump Disability Solution Center has stated they have carriers that will cover massage therapists, including Assurity and Mutual of Omaha.
Should you be unable to work for a period of time due to illness or injury, most disability insurances pay between 50–70% of your pre-disability gross salary. For therapists with S-corporations, it will be important to check if their passthrough income can be included.
To be covered, most plans require a minimum of a 30-hour work week to qualify, which for massage therapists can be made up of such things as massage, cleanup, setup, billing, education, and purchasing supplies. With this minimum met, costs will depend on a variety of factors such as age, health, and income.
Some questions to ask yourself:
How long can I manage my monthly expenses without my paycheck?
Do I have personal savings or a retirement plan I can dip into if needed?
WSMTA is providing this information for you to consider for your protection and that of your business and patients, along with some possible resources. If you are aware of other resources, please send them to us at email@example.com.
Medical defense, cyber liability, homeowners/renters, and auto insurance:
American West Insurance Agency, Inc.
Tokio Marine MEDEFENSE Plus
Cyber liability insurance:
Travelers Cyber Insurance
RPS (Risk Placement Services)
Tokio Marine Group
Country Financial (homeowners)
Country Financial (renters)
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Advocate for Massage Therapy as a Recognized & Respected Healthcare Profession