Q: My practice is slow, and I'm wondering whether it's legal to offer one-time free consults to anyone who comes in with a question, regardless of whether the person has insurance?
A: It depends. Medicare prohibits physicians from receiving more than $10 as a one-time gift or more than $50 cumulative annually in gifts. If you accept Medicare and your consultation would otherwise be reimbursable, offering free consults may constitute an improper inducement.
If you do not accept Medicare or your practice is only fee-for-service, you may price your services however you choose, including offering them for free. Because you would likely advertise any such promotion, however, be advised that any time you offer an inducement for patients to use your services, you may be inviting scrutiny of your practice.
The bottom line is that, although offering free consults may be a way to let people know about you, you also may attract unwanted attention from regulators. I recommend instead looking for local medical fairs or community events where you could highlight your services to those in your local community—who of course represent your potential patients and referral sources.
Answers to our readers questions were provided by Jennifer Kirschenbaum, JD, healthcare department manager for Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC, Garden City, New York.