If you’ve got a little knee pain and happen to be seeing your local chiropractor for that bad back, why not get some magic stem cells while you’re there? That’s the newest game plan of a biologics distributor. What’s in it for the chiropractor? A very healthy, illegal kickback!
This newest stem cell wild west report comes from the state chiropractor’s conference in California. At one booth, a biologics device distributor was advertising that it would hire a pain management doctor, put that doctor through a weekend stem cell course (because he or she has likely never injected a stem cell before), give them a portable ultrasound machine, and then send them to the chiropractor’s office to perform a stem cell procedure. What’s in it for the chiropractor? A third of the money charged for the procedure! All the chiro has to do is to sign a document stating that he will do some kind of rehab or provide another type of service he’s unlikely to provide to give this financial arranagement a thin veneer of legality.
So what could go wrong with this latest pure money making venture? First, taking a weekend stem cell course obviously means the doctor will know very little about stem cells. Second, chiro offices aren’t set up to be sterile environments, so you can bet infection rates will skyrocket. Third, should some complication ensue, the staff, protocols, and emergency equipment needed to support the patient won’t be in place. Finally, California’s anti-kickback statute is much tougher than the federal statute. This is where this financial scheme can really run afoul, as a $4,000 stem cell procedure will net the chiropractor about $1,300. If he or she provides services such as rehabilitation, the sticky wicket is whether those services would have been provided by the chiropractor if not for the business arrangement. In addition, having read one of these stem cell kickback contracts in my own community, they’re generally written to protect the company paying the kickback. So for example, the contract I had placed the onus on the chiropractor to perform a bevy of services in exchange for the kickback that were all services the chiropractor was unlikely to be able to document that he or she actually performed.
The upshot? Back cracking and a bone marrow aspiration on a drop table anyone? While there are competent chiropractic clinics that have taken the time and effort to hire full time physicians who are well trained to perform these procedures in an appropriate setting, this latest stem cell scam kickback scheme is really troubling. Regrettably, it’s likely that this one will get shut down only after someone is injured or worse. Hopefully the California medical board or OIG will act on what’s clearly an illegal, medical payola scheme before that happens!