American Pain Society Likely to File for Bankruptcy

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The board of directors of the American Pain Society (APS) is recommending to its members that the organization cease operations and file for bankruptcy, PNN has learned.

The APS is a non-profit, research-based organization that focuses on the causes and treatment of acute and chronic pain. Although many of its members are researchers and academics who are investigating non-opioid treatments for pain, the APS has been named as a defendant in numerous “spurious lawsuits” involving opioid prescriptions.

“Despite our best efforts, APS was unsuccessful in its attempts to resolve these lawsuits without the need for what will no doubt be lengthy and expensive litigation. The anticipated time-consuming and costly litigation combined with the declining membership and meeting attendance has created the perfect storm placing APS in a precarious financial position,” the board said in a letter sent to its members yesterday.

“Constrained by these unfortunate circumstances, we do not believe APS can continue to fulfill its mission and meet the needs and expectations of our members and community.”   

In order to proceed with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, only 10% of the organization’s 1,173 active members need to approve the board’s recommendation. Assuming there are sufficient votes, an independent third party trustee would then be appointed by a bankruptcy judge and all lawsuits pending against APS will be subject to an automatic stay.

“This will allow APS to minimize legal expenses and maximize recoveries for its creditors, as opposed to future dissipation of assets in defending the lawsuits which have no end in sight,” the board wrote.

The APS membership vote will be tallied May 29th.

Sad day for U.S. pain research, education, advocacy and patient care,” APS member and Stanford University psychologist Beth Darnall, PhD, tweeted to her followers.

In recent years, thousands of lawsuits have been filed by states, cities and counties seeking to recover billions of dollars in damages caused by the “overprescribing” of opioid pain medication. The lawsuits initially focused on Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, but have recently expanded to include opioid distributors, wholesalers, pharmacies and professional medical organizations like the APS as defendants.

If the APS files for bankruptcy, it would be the second pain management organization to cease operations in recent months. In February, the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) shutdown, largely due to financial problems.  

“It's really sad that pain organizations are failing,” said Bob Twillman, PhD, the former Executive Director of AIPM. “I'm not clear about the extent to which this was an anticipated or desired outcome of the lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, but it strikes me that an effort to say that we've been harming people by treating pain the wrong way has now eliminated two organizations focused on treating pain the way every guideline now says it should be treated, and on discovering new treatments that might obviate the need for opioids.”

Twillman says the shutdown of APS and AIPM will cause “significant gaps in the field” of pain management.

“The unintended consequences here may end up being quite ironic," he added.

Guilt by Association 

Like other professional medical organizations, APS relied on corporate donors to help pay for its annual meetings and widely respected publication, The Journal of Pain. That meant accepting nearly $1 million in donations from Purdue Pharma, Janssen, Depomed and other opioid manufacturers.

It also meant being targeted by lawyers and politicians in a campaign of guilt by association.

In 2018, APS was one of the medical societies and patient advocacy groups singled out by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in a Senate report that accused the organizations of being mouthpieces for opioid manufacturers. 

“Initiatives from the groups in this report often echoed and amplified messages favorable to increased opioid use — and ultimately, the financial interests of opioid manufacturers,” the report found.

McCaskill’s report failed to mention that she accepted nearly $500,000 in campaign donations since 2005 from the national law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, which represents many of the plaintiffs involved in opioid litigation. It has named the APS as a defendant in several of those lawsuits, along with American Academy of Pain Medicine and American Geriatric Society “for working with the manufacturing defendants in promoting opioids to doctors and patients.”

Simmons Hanly Conroy was the third largest contributor to McKaskill during her losing bid for re-election last year, donating over $400,000, an amount seven times larger than it gave to another candidate in 2018, according to OpenSecrets.org.

According to its website, Simmons Hanly Conroy currently represents governmental entities in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and eight New York counties in opioid lawsuits. The law firm reportedly stands to collect one-third of the proceeds from opioid settlements, which could potentially reach $50 billion, according to a Bloomberg analyst.

‘Corrupting Influence’

APS is also mentioned in a congressional report released this week by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Hal Rogers (R-KY). The “Corrupting Influence: Purdue and the WHO” report accuses the World Health Organization of being unduly influenced by Purdue Pharma and other opioid makers when it developed guidelines in 2011 and 2012 to treat pain in adults and children.

“The web of influence we uncovered, combined with the WHO’s recommendations, paints a picture of a public health organization that has been manipulated by the opioid industry,” the report said. “The investigation revealed that multiple organizations that claimed to be independent patient advocacy groups, including the American Pain Society, received significant payments from opioid manufacturers.”

The report does not mention that Rep. Clark has also accepted significant payments from drug makers. According to OpenSecrets.com, Clark has received over $522,000 in campaign donations from the healthcare industry since 2013, including donations from Pfizer, Celgene, Takeda, Biogen, Vertex, AstraZeneca and Sanofi.

Rep. Rogers has received over $581,000 in campaign donations from the healthcare industry during his 30 years in Congress.

Laser Spine Institute Shuts Down

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The Laser Spine Institute, which once ran a nationwide chain of surgery centers that specialized in “minimally invasive” spinal procedures, has abruptly ceased operations due to financial problems.

The company had four remaining surgery centers in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Scottsdale and Tampa, Florida, where it is headquartered. It recently closed three other surgery centers in an effort to control costs and restructure.

Despite “significant cost saving” in recent months, Laser Spine Institute said in a new release that it was “unable to attract the necessary financing” to continue operating while it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. About 600 employees are affected.

"My heart goes out to our great, dedicated staff who have stuck with us through all of our adversity and worked so tirelessly to help us right the ship," said Jake Brace, Laser Spine Institute's CEO, who was brought in last year to help restructure the company.

The company said it would contact patients slated for surgery and those in post-operative care and refer them to other medical facilities in their area.

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Laser Spine Institute treated patients with neck and back pain caused by spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, pinched nerves, bone spurs, herniated discs, sciatica and other chronic conditions.

Although it claimed to have 98% patient satisfaction rate, the company was hit with dozens of malpractice lawsuits, including one by superstar wrestler Hulk Hogan, who claimed its treatments were ineffective and cost him $50 million in lost revenue. Hogan reportedly settled out of court for $10 million.

Last year the family of a Pennsylvania woman who died hours after being discharged from a Laser Spine Institute surgery center was awarded $20 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.

A competing surgery center also sued Laser Spine Institute for offering illegal incentives to patients, such as paying for their airfare and hotel expenses, which is prohibited under Medicare guidelines. Nine surgeons told Bloomberg Businessweek that the company was doing spinal surgeries that were often unnecessary or inappropriate.

Power of Pain: Check Your Medical Bills for Errors

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

According to a study from The American Journal of Medicine, nearly two out of three bankruptcies stem from some sort of medical debt. How much of this debt is due to errors in medical bills?

According to a recent report by ABC News, one expert claimed to be finding errors on between 80–85% of the medical bills they reviewed. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and Medical Billing Advocates of America, national associations that check bills for consumers, say 8 out of 10 hospital bills its members scrutinize contain errors.

We tend to budget and work to slash our grocery, clothing, entertainment, and other spending, but forget to cut out-of-pocket medical costs. You can start saving money by checking your medical bills for errors and correct overcharges. Overcharges are fairly common, and correcting them can save you thousands of dollars.

While you may have no control over increases in premiums, co-payments, and deductibles, there's no reason to pay more than you should because of billing errors. Bills from doctors' offices and labs tend to have fewer mistakes, but they do happen. Mistakes can result from typos or deliberate overcharges. 

The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group of health insurers and state and federal law-enforcement officials, estimates that at least 3 percent of all health-care spending -- or $68 billion – is lost to fraud.

With a little time and perseverance, you may be able uncover overcharges by keeping a treatment log and reviewing bills as they arrive. Create a log of every test, treatment, and medication you receive. If you don't feel well enough to keep your own record, ask a relative or friend to do it. Even a limited list will make it easier to decipher your billing statements. 

There's no single list of fees you can check as to what your share of the cost is for insurance coverage. Insurers have a separate contract with each of your providers that determines how much they will pay. Therefore, after you schedule a procedure, test, or lab work, phone the providers to ask what they will charge and which Common Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes they will be submitting to your insurer.  

The next step is to call your insurance company to ask for an estimate of the amount your plan will cover and what you'll be responsible for paying. It’s good to get it in writing as verification or, at the minimum, ask the name of the representative and note the date and time of the phone call.  

The first statement you are likely to get is an explanation of benefits (EOB) from your insurance company or Medicare. The EOB statement will tell you the total amount being charged for your procedures, the amount your insurer is paying, and the amount you owe in deductibles and co-payments.

When bills begin to arrive from your doctors, compare the list of procedures with your notes. If you have a question about an item on a bill, phone that provider's office directly for an explanation. If charges are grouped together in broad categories—for example, all lab tests are lumped under one charge -- ask for an itemized bill if further clarification is needed.

If you find a mistake, first call your provider, explain the error, and ask someone in the billing department to make the correction. For each call you make, keep a record of the time, the name of the person you spoke with, and what you were told.

Those may be the only steps you have to take to get the matter settled. If that doesn't work, call an account representative or the fraud department of your insurance company. Next, I would suggest based on personal experience an appeal to your state consumer-protection agency or your state attorney general's office.  

If you can't get the problem resolved before the bill is due, you should pay the part of the bill not in dispute. If you find the disputed bills on your reports as unpaid accounts, write to the credit bureaus to explain the ongoing dispute. Also provide them copies of the EOB, doctor statement and any payments you did make on non-disputed charges. The bureaus must review your complaint and correct your report when proper documentation is provided.

Help protect yourself and your pocketbook so that you can help prevent the dreaded medical bankruptcy situation. So many times people just don’t get the treatment they need because they do not understand our medical billing system, or they get the treatment and overpay or get swamped with medical bills leading to bankruptcy.

Take the steps to protect yourself. A little work today will give you a more stable financial tomorrow and help you get proper and timely access to care as needed.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. She is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, motivational speaker, best-selling author, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation.

More information about Barby can be found by clicking here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.