COLIN WAS STRESSED. His coworker had called out an hour before her shift, leaving him to run the optical floor solo. Two patients were already moving through the frame boards when a tech escorted Dr. Tam out of an exam room and over to Colin.
ABOUT REAL DEAL
Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at email@example.com
Dr. Tam was a local general practitioner. Colin was relatively new to the Utah practice but he had already met Dr. Tam during his son’s eye exam.
“Nice to see you again,” said Colin, pumping the doctor’s hand. “Did your prescription change?”
“My reading power is being bumped up,” said Dr. Tam amicably. “I’ll get new progressives; you have my insurance information?”
“I do! I’m working with a few other people, but I’ll do my best to get you out of here quickly,” promised Colin. “I’ve got five frames pulled for you to start, see what you think and I’ll be right back.” After checking in with the first two patients, Colin bounded over to the reception station and pulled benefit printouts from Dr. Tam’s chart. When he came back Dr. Tam was already seated at an optical station.
“I like these,” he said, clasping one of the pairs Colin had selected, “and I want to order these Maui Jim sunglasses under my son Richard’s insurance plan. Do you remember him? He was in last month.”
Colin sat across from Dr. Tam and used a nearby laptop to look up the boy’s information. “It looks like he wasn’t given a prescription at his exam. Your insurance plan has a minimum prescription requirement to pay for the sunglasses,” Colin explained.
“Oh, that’s right,” said Dr. Tam, reaching into his breast pocket. He pulled out a prescription pad and, in front of Colin, wrote out a prescription for his son. “It needs to be a half-diopter, right?”
Colin nodded numbly, and awkwardly took the script when Dr. Tam handed it to him. “I need to take his measurements…”
“Just use what you have from last year,” said Dr. Tam. “It’s tough to get him in, between everyone’s busy schedules.” Sure enough, Colin found an entry in the EHR for another pair of Maui Jim sunglasses. Colin priced out the orders, took measurements and escorted Dr. Tam to reception to collect his copays.
Later that afternoon Colin found time to enter Dr. Tam’s orders. However, when he entered the authorization number that the front desk had pulled he found it was actually for Dr. Tam’s son – Richard Tam Jr. Dr. Tam’s benefit wasn’t available until the first of next month.
Colin immediately called the number on file for Dr. Tam. His wife answered their home’s landline and Colin explained the situation. “I can hold the order for three weeks and then process the exact day his benefit resets?” Colin offered.
“No, no,” said Mrs. Tam. “He’s been complaining for weeks, I don’t want to delay. I’ll just give you my credit card.”
Colin rushed the two orders but it was weeks before Dr. Tam finally came back for his dispense.
“Oh, these are great!” said Dr. Tam enthusiastically, studying the near vision card with his new progressives.
Colin beamed. “Did you bring your son? I was going to adjust his sunglasses for him.”
Dr. Tam chuckled. “Well, they’re really for me,” he shared. “Of course I’ll share them with him if he wants, but I need them when I’m wearing my contact lenses, and I lost last year’s pair.”
“Ah,” Colin nodded. “And I assume your wife told you she ended up paying for your glasses since you weren’t eligible?”
“Yes, it reset this past Monday, right?” asked Dr. Tam. “Just give me the invoice with Monday’s date and I’ll submit it.”
“I don’t think we’re allowed to change the date,” said Colin. “Technically the insurance company considers that fraud.”
Dr. Tam scoffed. “If anyone gives you a hard time, you just have them call me,” he replied.
The Big Questions
- If you were Colin, would you have done anything differently when discovering Dr. Tam’s eligibility was incorrect?
- Assuming Colin is physically able to revise the EHR to date the order to the first of the month, should he provide the invoice for Dr. Tam to submit his claim?
- Would you dispense the sunglasses, or return them, accept the loss, and report Dr. Tam for fraud?
Maureen G. Oak Park, IL
Didn’t Colin look at the name on the benefit sheet?! And seriously who would order anything based on a script a patient wrote out? I would have said, “I am sorry I need a valid doctor Rx, otherwise it’s not valid and I can lose my job over it.” We always have the sheet printed out with the patient’s name and benefits eligible highlighted. Colin sounds like a pushover; we have had patients who want to use their frame benefit for plano sunglasses and our answer is always, “No, that’s committing fraud.” I can’t believe any ethical optometrist would endanger his practice by agreeing to do this.
Rigo L. Indio, CA
Let me start by saying we all “bend” the rules from time to time for some of our “VIP” patients. That being said there is a line to draw when bending the rules becomes fraud or feels wrong. As opticians we feel that any professional that walks into our office will always do the right thing. So when doctor Tam wrote an Rx for his son I would have told him that I didn’t feel comfortable filling the Rx, even though I knew what he was doing, and that I would rather talk it over with our doctor. At this point he would have to understand that something smelled fishy. When he asked to change the date, I would be frank with him and just say that I would not feel right doing that. If you bend the rules one time the patient expects the same the following year. Sometimes it’s just best not to do things, no matter who the patient is.
Peter N. Belfast, ME
This case is not uncommon. The simple answer to somebody who asks you to lie to the insurance company is: “Do you want me to lie to you?” The answer is usually, “No.” Then you can say, “I’m not going to lie to your insurance company either.”
Lynn M. Fallston, MD
1) I would have done the exact same thing with the eligibility date. If the patient’s wife chose to pay I would take payment and proceed with the order.
2) I would NOT change the date in our EHR to facilitate insurance fraud. Not happening!!
3) I wouldn’t dispense the glasses…BUT it never would’ve gotten that far because….I never would’ve taken the Rx from a GP to begin with. Is that even legal??
Preet K. New York, NY
I’d explain to Dr. Tam that the practice can get audited at any given time, and this is considered insurance fraud. I would offer a discount on a second pair. Colin should not have accepted the Rx written by Dr. Tam as it is an unethical action taken by Dr. Tam. If the doctor who examined Tam Jr. didn’t prescribe any Rx, Colin should follow that. Ask Dr. Tam to reach out to the insurance to find his options to process the sunglasses order or offer to make the phone call on Dr. Tam’s behalf. (This shows customer service.) If Dr. Tam is uncooperative, call the insurance and inform them about Dr. Tam writing the Rx for Tam Jr. Colin shouldn’t change the DOS for the private-pay order even if the EHR system gives him the ability to. Have the patient discuss this with his insurance as well. I wouldn’t recommend processing the sunglasses order unless Dr. Tam follows the right steps. Document everything. Have Dr. Tam sign a liability form, which protects the practice from auditing.
Kate G. Arlington, VA
Fraud is fraud. Why sully your reputation?
Amelia B. Charleston, SC
Insurance fraud is any act committed to defraud an insurance process. This occurs when a claimant attempts to obtain some benefit or advantage they are not entitled to, or when an insurer knowingly denies some benefit that is due.
Theresa W. Austin, TX
Graciously, the optician should have advised the patient that the prescribing physician had not provided a script for his son, so unfortunately the sunglasses would not be covered by insurance. The optician then should ask, “How do you wish to proceed?” There can never be an exception for fraud.
Daniel M. Rockaway, NY
Of course he should not do any of those things. It is considered fraud and he risks at least his participation in the plan if not the license of the practitioner itself.
Genna L. Milwaukee, WI
Colin did the right thing by attempting to contact Dr. Tam. However, it’s important to speak directly with the patient when they’re responsible for their own care. Speaking with Dr. Tam would’ve given Colin an opportunity to assertively avoid possible fraud and any consequences of it. It would’ve been 100 percent wrong for Colin to modify the invoice date to comply with Dr. Tam’s request. Had the claim been audited, the insurance company would’ve found evidence of fraud in everything from the copay dates to material order dates. Dr. Tam, as a medical practitioner, is required to acknowledge that he understands insurance fraud and its consequences, and as such he should not be instructing other health care providers to commit fraud on his behalf. Were I in Colin’s situation, I would suspect Dr. Tam of committing fraud at his own practice, and would absolutely report Dr. Tam and accept a loss on the materials I ordered, knowing that I did the right thing.
Judy C. Virginia Beach, VA
1) Colin did the right thing by calling immediately when the issue arose.
2) NO! Changing dates on a receipt or in patient records is fraud. This is not a “gray area” in my opinion. Unless the offending doctor owns the insurance company, he doesn’t have any clout with them either.
3) Dispense the eyewear and note the conversation in his record. I would also make the practice owner aware of what his patient requested and that he stated that it was done for him in the past at the practice. Let the doctors discuss the issue. Neither Colin nor any other staff members should have to be caught in the middle of this.
Stewart G. San Francisco, CA
3) I would make him pay for them—nothing more, nothing less. If he refused, I’d send him to collection, AND I’d dismiss him as a patient.
Taylor K. Ellington, CT
1) Colin handled the situation appropriately when he discovered the eligibility issue—he called the patient immediately. HOWEVER, the first issue really arose when the patient wrote his own prescription. We would not have filled the Rx, as it was not valid. Regardless, Colin should have accepted the wife’s credit card for the full charge amount without insurance and continued with the job.
2) I would assume most systems, like ours, allow for date change on the invoice. However, of course, this is fraud and Colin should not do this.
3) I would have dispensed the sunglasses, as they should have already been paid for in full by the wife. I would advise Dr. Tam he can do what he wishes with the invoices, but that the office cannot and will not change any posting dates as it is fraud.
Bob S. St. Louis, MO
I wonder if Dr. Tam is as loose with insurance policy in his office as he expects Colin to be. While technically he did nothing illegal by writing an Rx for his son, it was an ethically reprehensible thing for a healthcare professional to do. Even worse, he expected Colin to risk his job and the reputation of his company by performing an illegal act. Again, I wonder if it is a standard operating procedure to falsify records in HIS office. If I remember nothing else from optometry school, one thing will be forever ingrained in my mind: “Never change a record. Put a line through the original information, insert the correction, initial and date it.” It’s a digital world now but the advice is still as relevant as in the good old (paper) days.
Leisa L. Newport Beach, CA
Dr. Tam’s eligibility should have been checked before the order was taken for his new glasses. However, since Colin notified Dr. Tam indirectly through his wife the order became a private order and was paid accordingly. The receipt date should not be changed to appease Dr. Tam. In regard to dispensing the Maui Jim sunglasses, Colin submitted the order with the proper Rx information provided for Dr. Tam’s son Richard with the required measurements from Richard’s chart. Technically it should be said that Richard is sharing the glasses with his father, not the other way around. This is one of those areas that is stretching the system by Dr. Tam; Colin was following the Rx provided by Dr. Tam for his son.
Judith W. Orange, CA
No, we do not change invoice dates; that is fraud plain and simple and no patient is worth the legal problems. As far as notifying the patient of his options of waiting till the first of the month or paying for the glasses, that is our standard policy. As far as making glasses without having a proper written prescription—either our own (from records) or from another OD or OMD—we would not do it. We do not feel that a primary MD can give a complete comprehensive eye exam, especially if he is just writing out what is necessary for insurance coverage
Jennifer Torrance, CA
I would have discussed all this with management first to see what options they wanted me to proceed with. If those options comprised my morals or ethics, I would then proceed to remind management that we have an obligation to not just the patients but to the practice and employees to make sure we have a secure livelihood by following the rules. If we continue to bend the rules, we will go down a path of no return and will be held hostage by patients that know we shouldn’t be doing this.
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