Most people would agree that it makes sense for the best rated dermatologists to charge a little more for their services, especially if they are a dermatologist specialist, perform special treatments that aren’t available elsewhere in the region, or deliver especially effective results. However, when a local dermatologist charges you repeatedly for procedures your insurance has already covered or you never received in the first place, this sense of understanding can fade quickly. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to patients across the eastern United States when it was revealed that a chain of dermatologist clinics had been allegedly overcharging both patients and Medicare. The case reminds patients how important it is to find a dermatologist you can not only trust with your skin but your finances as well.
Owned and operated by Dr. Paula Nelson, Family Dermatology features a number of franchised offices across the eastern United States. But while this proliferation might suggest that the practice was a great place to find the best rated dermatologist, patients say it was more likely due to their highly questionable billing practices. Many claim that they received harassing calls from the practice even though they had documentation showing that their insurance had already covered their treatment. In a number of cases, these patients held responsible for hundreds or even thousands of dollars of charges, and Family Dermatology’s collections agency wasn’t afraid to contact teenage children and other vulnerable parties to demand their money. One of the most outrageous cases, however, was that of a Pennsylvania woman who had visited a local practice for treatment for skin cancer: she not only received a bill three years after her appointment with Family Dermatology, which she knew that her insurance had covered, but the clinic had reportedly charged her for a penis biopsy.
Doctors at Family Dermatology place the blame firmly on the owner and primary dermatologist. Some report that they weren’t paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their services, and one lawsuit from a Georgia practitioner claims that Nelson and her husband instead funneled these funds into their own extravagant lifestyle. This allegedly included a $8.5 million mansion in Georgia that had formerly belonged to Kenny Rogers, vacations to Dubai, and luxurious parties in foreign countries. The lawsuit even claims that the Nelsons would wipe the sweat from their guests’ brows at these parties with $100 bills.
As a result, Dr. Nelson and Family Dermatology were named in a federal settlement, with the Justice Department suing the practice for $10.5 million dollars for improperly billing Medicare. However, they settled with no admission of wrongdoing for $3.2 million and half the proceeds from the sale of her 15,000 square foot Georgia mansion. The case is surely unique, but before you make an appointment with a dermatologist, remember that the best rated dermatologist is one who will respect you as a patient, rather than a lucrative source of income, as you work to improve your skin.