Efforts to Curb Chiropractors' 'Runners' Fail

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Jun. 6, 2011 12:00 am  

Arkansas House Bill 2211 died in the House Public Transportation Committee during the 2011 legislative session, allowing the continuation of what the bill’s authorside called the “deceitful and profit-driven practice” of steering auto accident victims to chiropractors for treatment.

The bill, which the state Attorney General’s Office labeled an infringement of free speech, was the latest unsuccessful effort to curb chiropractors’ use of “runners.” Runners are individuals or companies that troll through police reports for names and addresses of people involved in wrecks and then use a variety of tactics, some of them blatantly dishonest, to lure them to a chiropractor who pays a bounty for each new patient.

Those tactics allegedly include claiming to represent the victim’s insurance company, telling accident victims that their claims will only be paid if they see the designated chiropractor, even warning that failing to see the chiropractor will cost the victim an insurance windfall.

The Arkansas Chiropractic Association labels the use of runners “unethical,” and the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners forbids deceptive marketing. But complaints filed with the board and the Arkansas Insurance Department (see After Auto Accidents 'Runners' Pressure Potential Chiropractic Clients and  Unauthorized Advice: Runner Disciplined for Allegedly Practicing Law) suggest that the practice is used extensively by a small number of chiropractors in Arkansas.

The board’s executive director, Rebecca Wright, says the board has no authority to regulate runners and has a hard time proving that a runner has been paid by a particular chiropractor.

HB2211, sponsored by Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, would have addressed the problem by making it a misdemeanor for medical providers and their agents to use the information from police reports to speak to auto accident victims for the purpose of selling a service for at least 60 days following the wreck. Attorney Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith, who helped draft HB2211, said he had pushed for the legislation because the Chiropractic Board hadn’t taken any action against runners or the chiropractors who pay them.

A number of chiropractors supported the bill, and McCutchen believes the bill would have passed if the Arkansas Insurance Department and Attorney General’s Office supported it. But the AG’s Office actively opposed the bill because it “presented constitutionality concerns as they relate to the First Amendment,” spokeswoman Julie Johnson Thompson said.

The state Supreme Court had dealt with a similar question 10 years ago. In an opinion written by Chief Justice W.H. “Dub” Arnold, the court ruled that a regulation limiting chiropractors’ use of a telemarketing firm to attract clients was “an unconstitutional infringement on commercial speech, in violation of the First Amendment.”

McCutchen, however, said the Attorney General’s Office never worked with him to try to solve the constitutional concerns, which he discounted anyway.

“I felt like the constitutional concerns were not valid,” he said.

Other states have curbed runners through legislation, said James Quiggle, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C.

“The runners have a large bag of deceptive tricks to try and convince accident victims to seek treatments at shady clinics that will then inflate and invent treatments that are fraudulently billed to auto insurance [companies],” Quiggle said. “It’s a widespread practice in many areas of the country.”



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