Hire A Biller? Which way to go?! – Part 1 of 4

Hire A Biller? Which way to go?! – Part 1 of 4

I’m often asked whether it’s better for therapists to hire a biller or to do it themselves. 

Happy to help with this and other related questions!

But…there is a problem…  Therapists tend to expect a definitive yes or no answer. 

I find this strange. As a therapist, would you tell your client what they should do? 

Yet, clinicians seem to expect that my advice regarding whether to hire a biller is a one size fits all proposition. 

Sorry. It’s just … not that simple. 

In fact, there is so much complexity in answering this question that I am going to take FOUR blogs to address it! 

Part 1 – Hire a biller or do my own? Overview.
Part 2 – Outside biller: evaluating services to find the best fit.
Part 3 – How to be successful doing your own billing.
Part 4 – How to evaluate billing software. This is critical regardless of who the biller is. 

Should I hire a biller?

Which resource do you have more of – time or money?  Let’s look at both.


Billing takes time! There’s no getting around it.

Claim submission is no longer time-consuming, thanks to online EMR/practice management (PM) platforms.  But if by “billing” you are thinking of claims submission, that alone won’t make your practice profitable. What is needed for profitability is revenue cycle management (RCM).

Say what?

RCM is the fancy industry term that describes ALL the activities needed to ensure a practice’s profitability: 

    • Obtaining correct, complete intake information (including insurance cards)
    • Eligibility/benefit verification
    • Claims submission
    • Review rejected claims, correct, and resubmit
    • Posting of paid, denied, and deductible claims
    • Dispute/appeal denials or underpayments, and follow up – often repeatedly! 
    • Follow up on claims that disappear/stay pending too long
    • Reconcile remittances with banking
    • Challenge clawbacks
    • Manage patient balances, which can include multiple tasks:
      • Invoicing
      • Charging credit cards
      • Out of network superbills
      • Discussing balances / deductibles in a therapeutic manner, developing payment plans as needed.
    • Ensure provider enrollment stays current, correct, and matches claim submission 
    • Stay on top of the numerous payer rules that affect your practice
    • ….REPEAT!

And that’s in addition to doing your clinical notes. Because you can not submit claims until those notes are done!!  If you are – STOP! NOW! Talk to me if you need to know why.


Exhausted yet?


Hire a biller

It’s more manageable than it sounds.
However, you must have the time and the right ingredients.




In my experience, these are:

It may not be the…

  • cheapest product
  • one “everyone” uses.
  • most visually appealing

It’s the one that has the best mix of features, usability, support, and affordability FOR YOU. There is no “perfect” program out there!

  • Organization / setting up a good workflow and sticking to it
  • Patience – LOTS of patience!
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Attention to detail
  • An interest in problem-solving
  • Compartmentalize your emotions 
    • Meaning?  YES, insurance is awful, a mess, etc. I’m sure I’ve used every adjective and four-letter word you are thinking of right now! (and probably more…)
    • But if you’re going to deal with it, you will be successful IF -and only IF- you can learn to put those attitudes and emotions to the side while you concentrate on getting the job done. Afterward…go to the gym and hit a punching bag!  (Or don’t take insurance).
  • Willingness to learn new skills
  • patience when it comes to billingInsurance basics
  • Technology
  • You don’t need advanced math, but are you willing to deal with numbers?
  • …and did I mention patience?

Good billing services, virtual assistants, or W2 employees are not cheap.  I understand that it can be tempting to go for the cheapest solution. But too often, I’ve had desperate clinicians interviewing me on the phone, in tears because a bad biller has cost them thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. They ask how much of that back revenue I can collect for them. The answer is dependent on the payers, the specific scenarios, and most importantly the age of the claims, but is usually only a fraction of what they are owed, possibly less than 50%. Is saving money on a biller worth losing that kind of revenue?  In the end, do you come out ahead?

Finding the right person – or team – is critical!  

This is your income! 

If the person you hire does not do a good job, how will you pay the rent – or YOURSELF? 

So how much does it cost?

Whichever way you go, it’s significant. It may even be the single most expensive item in your operating budget.  But if the biller you hire collects 95% or more of the income that you have worked so hard for, then isn’t it worth it?  (95% is a realistic expectation, in my experience.)

What are your choices?


Part-time vs full-time? How much above minimum wage are you able to pay? Consider taxes, health insurance, and other benefits (vacations/paid time off, retirement-401K, productivity bonuses, etc). Plus the cost of payroll and related services. Also, consider that you will need time and energy to train and manage an employee.  Can you provide working conditions that will attract good talent?

If you are considering a 1099 contractor instead of an employee, can you be sure you meet the IRS classification for contractors vs an employee? If you mis-classify an employee as a contractor, you could be liable for hefty tax penalties.

Either way, are you able to monitor effectively without micro-managing? How will you provide needed training or supervision?


Does the service charge a percentage* of your income?  Other possible ways billers can charge: per transaction, per hour, flat fee per month.

*Percentage-based billing is illegal in some states, either in full or in part. Make sure you do your homework as to YOUR state’s law.

Sometimes the fees adjust up or down depending on collections or volume, sometimes not. 

Are there minimum fees? Implementation fees?

Are you paying additional costs, such as software, statement, or electronic transaction charges?

Be sure to ask which of the above RCM functions are (or are not) included. You can’t compare two different solutions on price unless they both offer all the same services.

And these are strictly the cost considerations…In Part 2 I will offer concrete guidance on things you need to contemplate before signing a contract with an outsourced biller or billing service. 

Even if you are outsourcing, you still have to monitor performance!  For instance, how will you know if your biller – whether contractor, in-house employee, or outside service – is collecting close to 100% of all revenue you have earned? You will have to identify a way to determine if money is being left on the table.

“Time vs. Money”

Is a spectrum, only a place to start evaluating your practice’s needs.  “In-house” and “outsource”both require time AND money

  • Doing your own billing: you have less time but make more money. 
  • Hiring an employee, virtual assistant, or a billing service typically allows you to achieve more time for yourself.
    (Or the ability to see more clients with that extra time.) But, there are more expenses that will reduce your income.

What’s Next?

Evaluate where you are in your private practice journey:

Where are you headed?
What does your ideal practice look like?
What is your ultimate goal for your practice?

These are personal questions that can’t be answered in a blog.  I highly recommend that you take the time to sit down and answer these questions realistically in order to make the best possible decision for your practice – your business!


When making your decision, consider what you want from your practice.

Where you are in your life and career will definitely play a role.

  • Just starting your practice? Mid-career? Headed toward retirement in a few years?
  • Do you have additional sources of income?
  • Number of client sessions per week do you want to do? 
  • How many hours per week do you need for documentation and clinical administration?
    (notes, treatment plan collaboration with other professionals, continuing education)
  • How many hours per week can you realistically devote to non-clinical administrative tasks?
    Consider: scheduling; billing/revenue cycle management; marketing; managing requests for new services; returning calls

What are you good at in terms of the billing world?

  • If you’ve done billing in the past or are doing it now, what do you struggle with? 
  • Can you learn to improve – and do you WANT to?
  • Based on the clinical hours you are going to work, what is your income likely to be?
    • Can you afford the services you want and still make an acceptable income?
    • If you cannot, then what is the best compromise until your income improves?
  • What’s your level of comfort with technology?

Finally, consider the ingredients I mentioned above that contribute to success in billing. 

  • There’s no shame if these don’t describe you – most of us didn’t earn clinical degrees with the goal of becoming a biller. (I’m an aberration!)
  • Keep in mind that what works for your colleagues, may not work for you.
  • It’s important to be realistic, whichever way you decide. 


In-house vs outsource isn’t so simple after all.  


I’ve barely scratched the surface – which is why there are several more parts to this blog on the way. I hope you’ll join me as I continue helping you decide what’s right for you.

Part 2: Outside biller: Evaluating services to find the best fit.

So, you’ve decided to hire an outside billing service. What now? How do you find the service that’s right for you? I’ll have lots of tips, so don’t miss Part 2.

3 EASY Steps – How to Collect from Medicare Clients

3 EASY Steps – How to Collect from Medicare Clients

“In many ways, Medicare is much easier than private insurance, but it has a language all its own.” I say this a lot.
Once you’re initiated into the Mysteries of Medicare, you’ll find that one HUGE advantage is almost NO time spent in lengthy Verifications of Benefits. Here we will discuss 3 Easy Steps – How to Collect from Medicare Clients.

Time IS money – and if you spend an hour or two each week verifying benefits, well, now you can use those hours to take two Medicare clients and make money instead!  Time is Money!

Medicare benefits are ALL THE SAME… As long as it’s Original Medicare!

In this blog, I’m going to cover Original Medicare, which in 2023 is now only about 50% of Medicare enrollees.

Medicare Advantage is seriously COMPLICATED – because it’s also private insurance! Learn how to spot -and AVOID – the pitfalls that result in no payment by registering for the upcoming webinar…

Therapists: Medicare Demystified! on Friday, March 10, 2023, at 10 am Pacific time.





Billing Medicare PART B – Collecting from Medicare Clients


Verify ELIGIBILITY – Step 1!

Someone calls you and says, “I have Medicare.”  Your Billing Buddy’s first piece of advice is…

Just because they have Medicare, does NOT mean you will BILL Medicare!
(Remember –  what I said about 50% of Medicare enrollees having Medicare “Advantage.”)
Fortunately, there is a way to verify with 100% accuracy whether a client is enrolled in Medicare Advantage (also known as “Medicare Part C”). Try getting 100% accurate results with private insurance…!!

Here are a few automated ways to get Original Medicare eligibility:
  • Medicare’s telephone IVR (interactive voice response) system
  • Portal operated by your Medicare contractor
  • Your clearinghouse/software vendor

For the portal or software option, enter your client’s demographic data and Medicare # (NO DASHES OR SPACES), and that’s it!
What you get back will vary slightly in output format depending on the electronic intermediary used, but watch for any of these terms:

  • Medicare Part C
  • HMO Medicare Risk
  • Capitated
  • Medicare Advantage / Group Medicare Advantage
  • Medicare + Choice (an old name for Medicare Advantage)
  • Medicare Private FFS – (means Fee for Service – not the Internet/text acronym. Despite it being VERY appropriate…)
  • The name of a private insurer

If present, these will appear close to the top of the eligibility return.

Once you have this information, you only need to scan for the presence or absence of these letters:
QMB (Qualified Medicare Beneficiary), which means no matter what, you cannot collect any money from the client. The QMB designation will appear next to any other insurance policies listed, also near the top of your results.

In addition, you can check the accumulations toward the Part B deductible if it’s near the beginning of the year. All Medicare eligibility summaries will contain this information – unless the client is QMB.

And be sure to check the coordination of benefits (filing order). Medicare CAN be secondary – it’s not always primary.
Getting eligibility errors? There are a few common scenarios. If you join us on March 10th for the Therapists: Medicare Demystified! webinar, you will find out what these might be and how to troubleshoot.


Supplement or Secondary? – Step 2!

Ask your client if they have one. Be sure to get ALL the client’s insurance cards (if you can). Most of the time Medicare will forward to the next plan – but not always.  In Medicare-ese, when Medicare forwards the claim, it’s called a “crossover.”

Pro tip: Check your Medicare remittance. It will say at the bottom of the claim line:

MA18  ALERT: The claim information is also being forwarded to the patient’s supplemental insurer:
Send any questions regarding supplemental benefits to them. 

Didn’t get the card or info about the plan Medicare forwarded to?   It happens.
Here’s my tried-and-true workaround.

I set the patient bill date ahead about 30 days. If money comes in from another payer before that time, great! I now know what the next policy is, and I add that information off the EOB into my billing program.

If there is no payment after 30 days, do one (or both) of two things:

  • Bill the patient or the power of attorney/guardian. It’s surprising how often a bill conjures up an insurance card that didn’t exist at the time of scheduling the appointment.
  • Call the payer referenced on the MA18 line – give them the client’s name, DOB, and Medicare #. They may or may not be able to give you eligibility information. The payer may also have a portal that is configured to accept the Medicare number.

If you can get the correct policy information, send a paper claim with a copy of the Medicare EOB/ERA (electronic remittance advice) attached.

What to Collect? Step 3!

Medicare’s Part B benefits are very simple.

Each year the federal government announces the deductible amount (it is $226 in 2023), and then Medicare reimburses 80% of the allowable amount.

Decision Tree:
If the client has no other insurance…collect the deductible or 20% as indicated on the remittance. Once you know the allowable amount for each code, you can collect it at the time of service.

If there is another payer, wait for the secondary claim to adjudicate and then collect whatever is left over – if anything. In the webinar on March 10th, I’ll present some seriously effective shortcuts where you can find out EXACTLY what certain policies will pay – NO VERIFICATION NEEDED.

If you are a “nonparticipating” provider, you may also collect the 15% “limiting charge.”

If the secondary payer is Medicaid – BEWARE!

Federal law prohibits the collection of Medicare deductibles & coinsurance from QMBs, but not all Medicaid enrollees qualify for the QMB program.

If your client is not QMB but IS enrolled in Medicaid, you MUST check state Medicaid law before collecting.

MOST states forbid collection from Medicaid enrollees.
 A few allow collection only for procedures the state Medicaid program does not cover.
When in doubt – call your state for clarification or do not collect money from a Medicaid-enrolled client.

Then there are times that Medicaid “covers,” but doesn’t actually pay!
Let’s say the Medicare allowable for the code billed is $115. For the same code, your state’s Medicaid program allows $85.
Medicare will pay 80% (which is $92, roughly, because of the sequester).
Since $92 is higher than the state’s allowance of $85, the state will conclude, when the claim reaches them, that you have been paid in full.

In this instance you will have to write off $23, you cannot collect it from the client.

These are not considered a “routine waiver” of patient responsibility, because there is no patient responsibility. The same is true even if you choose not to be a provider for Medicaid. Medicaid would cover the service if you chose to participate.

If you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me today.  I am here to help!

And that, my friends, is ALL there is to it.
Until next time,
AKA “Your Billing Buddy”

Click here now to Register
Therapists: Medicare Demystified!
on Friday, March 10, 2023, at 10 am Pacific time.


Find out how to bill Medicare for telehealth after the end of the COVID Public Health Emergency!
Need to learn how to read the Medicare fee schedule?
What is covered by Medicare, what should be in your records, and what do you do if you get audited?


I Don’t Want to Enroll in Medicare!!!

I Don’t Want to Enroll in Medicare!!!


Do I have to enroll in Medicare?

In true Medicare doublespeak … The answer is both YES – and NO.

There are three categories of Medicare provider enrollment.  The government expects all Medicare-eligible clinicians to make a choice and enroll accordingly.

What they DON’T want, is for clinicians to refrain from choosing. The government expects all Medicare-eligible clinicians to enroll in Medicare or opt out. There can be negative consequences to staying outside the system.  

Attention: Counselors and Marriage-Family Therapists,  beginning in 2024 this will include YOU, as well!

For the uninitiated, Medicare seems designed to frustrate, with all its acronyms, lingo, and peculiarities. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Upcoming Webinar!       Therapists: Medicare Demystified! 

Your Billing Buddy will be your guide to the next upcoming webinar Friday, March 10th at 10 am  Pacific / 1 pm Eastern.

The 3 provider enrollment categories

Participating – There is no “credentialing” in Medicare. Compared to a private insurer, it’s a relatively
straightforward and short process.   (Keyword here being relatively…!)

To enroll on paper, you file the appropriate forms:Therapists: Medicare Demystified!
CMS 855I (for individuals)
CMS 855B (groups)
CMS 855R (individual group members reassigning benefits)
CMS 588 (electronic funds transfer is required)
CMS 460 (participation agreement) 


Or, you complete the same information on PECOS – Medicare’s online enrollment system.* 

*This June, CMS will be launching a redesign of PECOS. If you plan to enroll, I suggest enrolling by the end of April – or wait to start once the upgrade is complete.

Medicare’s enrollment process takes 30-45 days once your enrollment application is deemed complete. If something is missing or incomplete, you will receive a letter and are given 30 days to resolve the deficiency

There may also be a site visit. If you work mostly remotely, or in an office owned by another entity, call the Provider Enrollment department at your MAC (Medicare Administrative Contractor) to ask how to proceed. Site visits are a negative consequence of past fraud. 

Medicare needs to ensure you are a legitimate business. 

Once enrolled, your Medicare provider number will be made retroactive 30 days from the date your application was received. 

To bill, hook your billing system up to send claims electronically…and off you go! (Medicare does not accept paper claims except in special circumstances). 

Participating clinicians are required to:

  • Submit claims for clients.
  • Accept the Medicare allowable rate as payment in full. 
  • Only collect deductible/coinsurance from your client. (No superbills)

Non-Participating – It’s not all that different from Participating, but with a few key features.

During enrollment, you will NOT sign the participation agreement. (CMS 460). The lack of this form is what enrolls you as non-par. Otherwise, the enrollment process is identical.

Non-participating providers are allowed to charge more. Specifically, in a Medicare
mathematical sleight of hand, 10% more. Here’s ho
w it works. When Medicare processes your claim, they will allow 95% of the amount paid to participating providers. The non-participating clinician is then permitted to add 15%, with the total net gain, therefore, being 10%.  The 15% is what is referred to as the “limiting charge” – the amount that a non-par provider can add on top of what Medicare allows.*
*Some states, such as New York, restrict the limiting charge. Contact a licensed healthcare attorney in your state.

You MUST file the claims for your client. However, you do NOT have to accept the assignment. (Accepting assignment = Medicare pays you). You are allowed to collect in full at the time of service: the Medicare allowed amount + the limiting charge. Upon receipt of a non-assigned claim, Medicare will reimburse your client directly.

Unlike with a commercial or a Medicare Advantage plan, the benefits to your client are NOT reduced if you are non-participating.  However, your client’s supplement or secondary plan may not reimburse them for the limiting charge.

Still want absolutely NOTHING to do with Medicare?   

Then you need to Opt-Out!  Opting out is the third enrollment category.

Opting out is the simplest of all. There is a short form you file to Medicare, called an affidavit. Each Medicare contractor has one available for download on their website.

Opting out is an all-or-nothing proposition: It applies to all Medicare beneficiaries. If you currently have clients with Medicare, they will lose their benefits too – not just your new clients. Want to keep your current Medicare clients, just don’t want any more?  

Tip: close your practice to new clients rather than opt out.  

Opting out covers all services/procedures covered by Medicare.
Opting out puts your NPI on a publicly searchable list and applies to ALL practice locations. So know this…

If you’re out – YOU’RE OUT!

You cannot be opted out in your private practice but then accept Medicare clients at a group or facility.

What if I opt out but want to re-enroll in the future?

You can! There is never a barrier to changing your status, although naturally, there are a few rules… (hey, it’s Medicare!)

  • For clinicians who are in their first opt-out cycle, there is a one-time “buyer’s remorse,” or Early Termination. You can cancel your opt-out enrollment within the first 90 days of your opt-out date. This is not available, ever again. 
  • Be mindful of when your two-year cycle ends. You can only re-enroll at the end of the two years. You must re-enroll no later than 30 days before the start of the next two-year cycle.

Note for clinicians who prescribe medication:   As an opt-out provider, the drugs you prescribe will ONLY be covered by Medicare if you stay enrolled with your privileges restricted to order, certify, & prescribe. This is an option. 

The Private Contract

Each Medicare contractor has one of these available on their website as well. My advice is to download it, and don’t modify it except to cut & paste the verbiage onto your letterhead.

It’s important for you to know – What does it say? 

Your Billing Buddy

A lot of things, some of which are obvious enough that I do not need to rehash them. The main points are:

  • Client agrees to pay & agrees not to file for reimbursement.
  • Client understands Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and/or supplement plans will not pay. 
  • Client understands Medicare limits on charges do not apply.
  • Client understands that the services could be covered by Medicare, if obtained from a provider who had not opted out. 
  • Client acknowledges this agreement is voluntary. 

There’s more – do not take what’s written here as everything you need, if you want to opt-out. Go to a Medicare contractor’s website to download their form – or attend the March 10 webinar!

Opt-out private contracts MUST be in writing and kept on file in your paper chart or EMR. As with anything else, if it isn’t documented – it didn’t happen. 

Can I use a Good Faith Estimate instead?  

NO.  “Good faith estimates” do not apply to Medicare clients. 

What happens if I stay unenrolled?

They don’t examine lists of licensed professionals and compare them against enrollment databases. 

All it takes is one Medicare client who pays you, obtains a superbill, and then files for reimbursement. You’ll receive an extremely frightening letter. 

The letter will state:

Medicare guidelines outlined in Section 1848(g)(4) of the Social Security Act, require the physician or supplier to file a claim on the beneficiary’s behalf for service(s) rendered to a Medicare beneficiary that may be covered.  …  Physicians … who fail to submit a claim or who impose a charge for completing the claim can be subject to sanctions and/or monetary penalties.


If you’re unaffiliated with Medicare and you’ve received the above letter, choose an enrollment category and get onboard. They will not prosecute you for a first offense, IF you take prompt action. Enrolling in one of the above categories will demonstrate your compliance going forward.   

Warning: You may be required to refund fees collected from your client(s) for sessions that didn’t follow Medicare’s rules. 

Where is this written?   LEGALESE – click at your own peril!


Medicare IS manageable – But you don’t have to go it alone! 

Learn all the secrets to working confidently with Medicare, without hassles, and getting paid:

Therapists: Medicare Demystified!

Friday, March 10th
10 am Pacific / 1 pm Eastern


Until next time, Your Billing Buddy is always here if you need help!