The ads frequently pop up online and in newspapers. They promise you the world. For a small investment, say $400 or $500, the ads claim, you could have a lucrative home-based medical billing business that generates tens of thousands of dollars in income each year.
If the opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no hard data on the number of medical billing scams reported each year, but the practice is apparently widespread. So it’s important to take precautions to make sure you don’t get scammed. It’s also important to understand what it takes to get in the business.
“Many years ago, the billing industry had low or limited barriers to entry,” says Sherri Dumford, director of operations and external affairs for the Healthcare Billing & Management Association, a California-based organization that counts hundreds of medical billing companies as members.
“That has changed significantly in recent years. HIPAA, compliance requirements and federal regulations have raised the point of entry into the business of revenue cycle management…, ” Dumford says.
Here to avoid scams
Do your homework: “Talk to organizations for medical claims processors or medical billing businesses and to doctors in your community,” says Frank Dorman, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission. “Before you sign an agreement or pay any money upfront, consult an attorney, accountant or other business advisor.”
“Ensure that you check for accreditations,” adds Dumford. “Check references and seek information from professional associations, such as the Healthcare Billing & Management Association, that support the revenue cycle industry.”
Make sure you understand how the medical billing business works: “Medical billing courses are often taught at local or community colleges and through private for-profit schools around the country,” says Dumford. “One thing that consumers of this type of education should keep in mind is that the term “medical billing” is extremely generic and can mean many different things to different types of institutions, educators and obviously to future employers. Consumers should ask themselves what type of environment they are seeking for employment. A hospital is likely to have distinct requirements from a medical practice or billing company.”
Look for telltale signs of potential fraud: “Look at their websites carefully,” says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Look for grammatical errors, lack of contact information, no phone numbers. Look at the ‘About Us.’ If it’s just generic information, that’s another warning sign. If you can’t find a name other than the person trying to sell you on the job, that’s a warning sign. If the company has a toll free number, that’s an indication that it’s more than likely a legitimate business. Put the phone number on the website into Google with quotation marks and see what comes up.”
Dorman and Hutt also encourage people to check public records and to ask public agencies about the company.
“Your local or state consumer protection agency, state attorney general, and Better Business Bureau can tell you if they’ve gotten complaints,” Dorman says. “But even if they haven’t received any, be careful — unscrupulous companies may have settled complaints, changed their names or moved to avoid detection.”