Use caution when offering free consults

If your business slows, you might consider giving free consults. Find out why this might not be the best idea.

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.

Answers to our readers questions were provided by Jennifer Kirschenbaum, JD, healthcare department manager for Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC, Garden City, New York.