Kym Tolson’s natural sense of empathy led her to become a therapist, and she eventually opened a private practice of her own. However, issues with her billers led her to discover that she had over $12,000 in uncollected client and insurer payments, and her attempt to resolve the issue led to the termination of her contract and getting locked out of her own business. To make sure this never happened again, she learned everything she needed to know to effectively do her own billing.
Kym now teaches other telehealth professionals how to take insurance in their private practice and keep track of what’s going on in their own business. She helps them take control of what’s going on and operate businesses with honesty and integrity to best serve their patients.
Today, Kym joins the podcast to share how she solved a big problem and gave that knowledge to others, how the membership model has improved her own practice as a therapist, and how to find the courage to pull the trigger, launch, and get it done.
- Why therapists are so vulnerable to being taken advantage of by insurers – and why Kym saw not taking insurance as an unacceptable solution.
- How Kym was effectively taken hostage by her business – and what she did to protect others from ever going through something similar.
- How running her membership has helped Kym scale down her practice and provide better care to her patients.
- Why mental health care is so important – and the powerful ripple effect that therapy can have for people all over the world.
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- “Have a good support system around you when you go through this stuff. I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. So, it’s emotional, but do it because it’s worth it and it’s really exciting.” – Kym Tolson
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Kym Tolson, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing Podcast. How are you?
Kym Tolson: I’m great. Thank you for having me. Really excited to be here.
Shelli Varela: Thank you for showing up. I always like to fully support our therapists out there who are helping people be the best selves they can be so we appreciate the work you’re doing.
Kym Tolson: Thank you.
Shelli Varela: With that said, it would be awesome if you could share with us sort of who you serve and what you do.
Kym Tolson: Okay. So, I’m a therapist in private practice. I see clients all online now. I took my brick-and-mortar practice all online about two years ago now. But basically, I’m seeing clients and most of my clients need to use insurance in their private practice when they come see me as a therapist. That’s basically where I am. I’m a therapist in private practice that takes insurance and that’s sort of what led me to the membership site that I created.
Shelli Varela: You were talking at the beginning of our pre-chat and you talked about something catastrophic that happened to you. Can you start at the beginning of your story like how did you come to be in therapy and what led you to that like what was the root of that? And then what ended up happening as a result of you starting a membership site?
Kym Tolson: Well, it’s kind of a classic story. You know, I grew up with a mother that was chronically depressed and I was the kid in the neighborhood that always helped the other kids, I was an empath. You know, I was one everybody came to and talk to about their problems and that sort of thing. So, that just sort of naturally led me into the therapy field. And then I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was terrible with math and science so it was just sort of a natural evolution and I became a therapist. And I saw the importance from an early age of the importance of therapy and people needing therapy and support, especially teenagers going through stuff like I did. So, from there, I worked in agencies and group practices, and then finally, I went into private practice on my own. And from there, I was taking insurance because basically, I served a lot of like underserved populations that didn’t have money for private pay and that sort of thing. So, from there, I basically just kind of had my head down, I had billers that were doing insurance for me. They were collecting the copays, the deductibles, all that stuff. [Cutout 2:34 – 4:00]
So, I am a therapist in private practice. I basically was using billers for 10 years and they were doing all my insurance claims for me and I really knew nothing about insurance billing. But then my clients kept saying to me, “I don’t think this copay is right that you’re collecting or this deductible is right,” that sort of thing and I just would say, “I don’t know. I’m just doing what the billers are telling me to do.” So, basically, one day I decided to just ask for a bank balance report from my billers and they gave me a bank balance report of $12,000 that they hadn’t collected. Yeah. So, it was crazy. So, I kind of freaked out and I couldn’t decide if I should hire new billers, if I should try to figure out how to do it myself. So, I decided the next new client that came in, I was going to just try to bill it myself like see if I could figure it out because I didn’t want to really rely on anybody else either. So, I did that but then the billers found out like they were notified that I was billing outside of our contract and they actually ended up firing me which was crazy. Yeah. So, they fired me. I had 100 active insurance clients and I had no idea. I didn’t know the passwords to log into my insurance accounts. I didn’t know how to file any claims, anything like that.
Shelli Varela: Oh, my gosh. So, you’re basically handcuffed in your own business.
Kym Tolson: Exactly. And I was like at a crossroads. It was like, “Am I going to hire just more people and count on them? Or am I going to just buckle down and learn this stuff and go from there?” So, that’s basically what I did. I just like spent weekends and evenings just researching how to do insurance billing and that sort of thing. So, as I’m writing all this down, it’s like forming like a course basically and I’m like other therapists need to know how to do this. So, I’m just writing it down. It’s just sort of evolving. And at the same time, I also decided that I wanted to be a digital nomad. So, I also had to decide how to bill insurance but also bill insurance while traveling and working online. So, that sort of evolved. My course evolved into insurance billing for telehealth therapists. So, in January of this year, we sold everything. We’re like just kind of moving around the country right now. We’re living in Miami right now. We just moved here in February. So, that’s part of my story. So, anyway, I had to write it all out and it formed a course. So, basically, I turned it into a course, and ever since then, I’ve been helping other therapists learn how to take insurance in their private practice because there’s a lot of people out there that can’t afford private pay therapy. So, they need to use their insurance and it’s an important skill for therapists to know even if they’re going to have billers, they need to know how to do this on their own so they can keep track of what’s going on in their own business.
Shelli Varela: Totally, that makes a lot of sense. And like I said, the ripple effect of you being able to provide the therapists, the means by which they can now take control back in their own businesses and maybe not be relying on those billers that if you don’t have the skillset, are they being honest? Do they have integrity? You don’t know necessarily. But most importantly, the therapists have bills to pay and while being able to collect their insurance. What happens at the end of the day is that people that need the help actually get the help.
Kym Tolson: Exactly. And to make it a streamlined easy process so you don’t have to focus on that as much. You could just focus on the client.
Shelli Varela: Well, when you think that makes possible for the therapist, when they’re able to stay in their own lane because what I hear a lot from people that have membership sites is they’ll be an expert in their field of expertise. They’ll be an expert in their niche. So, whether it be therapy or they’re an artist or what have you but they’re not necessarily an expert in the business or getting to know the nuts and bolts or the execution piece. What does it make possible for those therapists when they’re able to utilize your program, and then subsequently be supported by you in your membership site?
Kym Tolson: Yeah. It gives them a lot of empowerment. Also, once they understand the nuts and bolts of insurance billing, it really becomes so simplistic. It’s like a click of a button and you’re done for the most part. That’s the thing I didn’t understand. When I first like had all that happened to me, I thought it was going to be so hard but once you get it, you’ve got it and you have the knowledge forever. So, even if you do outsource to billers or whatever, now you know or now I know. I could look at a claim that I get back and I could know exactly what’s happening. And I can look at my client accounts and I can know exactly what’s happened. So, there’s a lot of empowerment around that. And I think that translates to our clients too. We want to give that value to our clients like empowerment, like educate yourself, know what’s going on in your life, so you can be independent and take care of yourself.
Shelli Varela: I wonder how many other people had a similar experience to you, whereby you’re basically at the mercy of somebody else because you don’t know that side of the business and what a relief it must be for those people to now be able to be in carrying control because money has a certain sort of energy as well and being able to kind of keep track of that so you can stay in your lane and focus on the reason you started therapy in the first place.
Kym Tolson: Exactly. Yep.
Shelli Varela: With respect to having a membership site so you say you practice therapy as well and you now have this membership site, in what ways would you say that has changed your life and your business, having an online membership?
Kym Tolson: Yeah. It’s a lot different because the membership actually is brand new. I just started the membership. It was like a solution that was missing with the course. It was like the next step that needed to happen but a lot has changed like I’m super busy, first of all, so I’m still trying to find that balance between how many clients am I going to see? And how many hours am I going to devote to the business side of this, developing course material and the launches and all of that stuff? So, it’s changed. I used to see 30 to 40 clients a week and now I’m kind of down to maybe 30, 25 to 30. So, I’ve cut back a little bit but it’s actually a good thing for me because I see clients that have severe trauma and substance use disorders together so it’s a very intense population. So, it’s good for me to be able to cut back a little bit and only see like maybe a handful and devote a lot of energy there, and then have a lot of energy for the business too. So, I’m finding that balance right now.
Shelli Varela: Well, you brought up a really interesting point. I’m a firefighter.
Kym Tolson: Oh, wow.
Shelli Varela: Around 9/11, obviously, they were bringing in therapists for the workers and all of the people. But what they found was, at some point, they had to bring in therapists for the therapist because they were experiencing so much trauma and so much exposure to you can only have so much compassion fatigue before your nervous system starts to shut down. And so, what I’m seeing, especially as one of the benefits of what you do and you said this, now that you’re able to take fewer clients, you show up for them in a different way like there really is that benefit of taking care of the therapist so the therapist can show up with the best energy in the best state as the best selves for their clients.
Kym Tolson: Absolutely, yes. And I’m seeing that now. I’m like so appreciative to be able to cut this back but still have enough income to live and all of that so, yeah, absolutely.
Shelli Varela: If you are able to look five years into the future and look at what your membership has created or cause both in your life and in the lives of the therapists that you work with, what would be if there was no such thing as logic, what would be the best vision for that?
Kym Tolson: Oh, my gosh, that’s a good question. Ideally, I’d be able to see the clients that didn’t have insurance or money. I’d like to be able to just do that, just have like a case of maybe 10 pro bono clients that I can devote a ton of energy to and then focus on getting the course and the membership to lots of people, lots of therapists that can also have this trickle-down effect. They’re empowered and have great systems in place. Their practices are going to run more smoothly. They’re not going to have to worry about chasing down claims because we’ve already got the systems in place so that’s how I envision it really.
Shelli Varela: That’s super powerful. I know that there are a lot of people that don’t have insurance. We’re up here in Canada and some therapies are covered and some therapies aren’t. But with respect to mental health, like what that makes possible when you keep people well and when you keep people on track in as their best selves, the ripple effect of that is actually quite astounding. If someone were to ask you for advice in terms of say they were thinking of starting a membership site, what advice would you give them?
Kym Tolson: There’s so much advice. Well, one, just go ahead and do it. That’s something I hear Stu talk about all the time, just get it going. Because I kept like putting it off the launch dates and all that stuff. Finally, I was just like, “I don’t care. I’m just going to do this thing.” So, I did it. I launched it to 36 people which was awesome. I’m so excited about that. But in that know that there are launches, there’s a lot of emotions. It’s a real roller coaster like this entrepreneurial world and it’s a ride. But I would just say like have a good support system. I’ve got some other TRIBE members that are my friends. We talk every morning and one’s going through a launch right now and she’s like losing her mind so we’re just really supportive. And we’re like, “Remember the last time when I went through this and I was an emotional wreck because I forgot to do this landing page or this or that?” So, have a good support system around you when you go through this stuff because it’s brand new like I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. So, it’s emotional, but do it because it’s worth it and it’s really exciting.
Shelli Varela: Well, there’s something really impactful about knowing that what you’re going through is normal. I know a lot of people will have a great idea and they’ll try to launch it or they’ll think about launching it and then they’ll pull the punch because all of these emotions start coming. Maybe you should be a therapist for launching people.
Kym Tolson: You know, I thought about it. I was like we need a support group for launches.
Shelli Varela: Well, you know what, I hear this time and time again actually. We’re talking about this because it really is an emotional process but just to know right on the outset that that is actually part of the journey. And everybody has created a course, a site, a membership, whatever that looks like, those feelings that people are feeling they’re completely normal and the only way through it is through it. And to be able to have that ripple effect and help those people on the other side is to just pull the trigger, say yes, and get it done.
Kym Tolson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Shelli Varela: We so appreciate all that you’re doing out there for people and especially truthfully the ripple effect of what you’re now allowing to be possible in the lives of so many people who are now getting the help that they need to is pretty profound. If we were looking for you online, where is the best place they can find you?
Kym Tolson: Well, we’re building the membership site right now. So, it’s Private Practice Insurance Billing or KymTolson.com.
Shelli Varela: Perfect. Kym, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate you.
Kym Tolson: You’re welcome. Thank you.
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