The other day, one of my Star Tribune colleagues was pulling out of a parking space when a cyclist zoomed out of nowhere, hit his car and shattered his windshield. The next bombardment came through his mailbox, thanks to lawyers and chiropractors who wanted his business.
In less than three weeks, 14 solicitations arrived in the mail. A chiropractic clinic sent a gift certificate valued at $250 for a full chiropractic examination, any needed X-rays and a “doctor’s recommendation to get you well.”
It’s a legal way of drumming up business, and the professionals comb through public records to find people involved in accidents. But an insurance industry representative said these types of advertisements may lure people into clinics to exploit the state’s no-fault insurance benefits that often cover medical expenses for accident victims.
Last year, Minnesota lawmakers tightened the rules on these solicitations by forbidding medical professionals from advertising how much money an accident victim can gain under the no-fault system.
One of the mail solicitations appeared to violate the law. But the licensing board in charge of enforcing it, in this case the Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners, isn’t doing so because of a pending lawsuit challenging the new restriction.
‘$20,000 in benefits for you!’
The solicitations came from chiropractic clinics and trial attorneys from all around the Twin Cities.
Attorneys mostly sent official-looking letters stating they can help get my colleague’s medical bills paid, in addition to fixing his car and even transporting him to and from a clinic. Paige Donnelly, a personal injury attorney in Minnesota and Wisconsin, sent a yellow trifold pamphlet explaining the benefits of no-fault policies.
Chiropractors sent glossy postcards, with photos of smiling doctors or a woman looking relaxed as she received a massage. They also sent “gift certificates,” valued from $145 to more than $400, for massages or consultations.
“Remember, the scariest thing is what cannot be seen,” one of them wrote. “You might seem fine now, but symptoms can come later.”
A yellow postcard with a free one-hour massage offer from ProSpine Health and Injury in Eden Prairie says “if you have been hurt, even just a little, from a recent accident, in practically all cases you are covered 100% under the Minnesota No Fault Act. Policy limits allow for at least $20,000 in benefits for you!”
Last year’s legislation banned medical professionals from making “any reference to the dollar amounts of the potential benefits” under no-fault insurance. Attorneys do not have the same restrictions as chiropractors and other medical professionals.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka and a chiropractor, said ProSpine is “clearly violating the law.”
ProSpine did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Another sponsor, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he wants to limit the solicitations because “that’s where the abuse of no-fault tends to come out of,” he said.
The Insurance Federation of Minnesota, a trade group, said some solicitations may be helpful in educating people about the benefits they can receive from no-fault, but he said these types of practices can also “breed fraud,” and may mislead those involved in a car accident to believe they are entitled to cash payoffs.
“That’s not money going to you. It goes to the doctors or attorneys,” said Mark Kulda, spokesman for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota. “That’s the kind of language that starts to cross the line.”
Board told not to enforce law
The Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners is tasked with enforcing the advertising law for chiropractors. Dr. Larry Spicer, the board director, said he does not have any open complaints on advertising practices. He said that Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office has advised the board not to enforce the law at this time because of pending litigation.
After the amendments were passed last year, 1-800-411-PAIN and its executives sued the board to prevent the law’s implementation. A federal judge in December said the board can enforce the law, but 1-800-411-PAIN appealed that ruling.
Despite the attorney general’s advice, Spicer said the board’s website clearly states that chiropractors should be obeying it.
“Doctors of chiropractic are advised to be aware of the conditions of this statute, and comply accordingly with all advertising requirements, including these,” the website says.
Spicer would not comment on ProSpine’s advertisement.
My colleague, by the way, wasn’t injured.
If you’ve been in a car wreck in Minnesota, Whistleblower wants to hear about your experience with no-fault insurance. Send an e-mail to email@example.com or call me at the number below.
Alejandra Matos • 612-673-4028