Meet The Expert: Araceli Vázquez

It was hard to believe that in a metropolitan area of ~6 million people we could not find a single registered dietitian who spoke Spanish. Then, I had a change of heart, something clicked and I decided to become a dietitian to serve those like my father.
— Araceli Vázquez

Araceli Vázquez, MS, RDN, LD, is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Reimbursement Representative for the State of Texas. She also runs her own nutritional consulting practice, Dietgenics, and focuses on being accessible to underserved communities.

We're so inspired by her dedication to helping others, and want to share her experience with you. Come dive into Araceli's story with us!

Healthy Bytes: Why did you get started in nutrition and become an RDN?

Araceli Vázquez: I was pursuing a Master’s degree in Food Science when my father was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 2.  His doctor recommended him to see a dietitian. Even though my father spoke English, he was more confident communicating in Spanish.  We looked for a bilingual dietitian all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area without any success.  It was very sad.  It was hard to believe that in a metropolitan area of ~6 million people we could not find a single registered dietitian who spoke Spanish.  Then, I had a change of heart, something clicked and I decided to become a dietitian to serve those like my father.  I earned a Master of Science in Nutrition, went through the program and internship to become registered dietitian and that was the beginning of my journey.

What makes your niche special?

I am not only one of the few bilingual/multicultural registered dietitians but also my practice is one of the few that accepts Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances in North Central Texas.  I serve the underserved communities including Hispanics, Asians, Middle Eastern, Eastern European,  African American, and of course, Anglo. 

Why should (or shouldn’t) a private practice RDN accept insurance?

RDNs should accept insurance to expand their horizons, areas of practice, and to get a constant cash flow. Using a billing tool to submit claims helps dietitians to focus on providing high quality care and increases revenue by increasing number of clients as well.

RDNs should not accept insurance if they are not willing to take the risk, or are fearful and intimidated of what it takes to endure and overcome challenges.  Also, some areas of practice such as sports nutrition are not very likely to be reimbursed by third parties, so having a 100% self-paid practice would be best.

Tell us more about the AND reimbursement online community, please, and your role as a Reimbursement Rep.

The AND reimbursement online community is an online tool that has a specific community designated for Reimbursement Representative updates and networking. It offers the opportunity for members to exchange information and discuss reimbursement topics.

My role as a Reimbursement Rep in TX is serving as a source of information and sharing MNT coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, and third party payers’ issues with local members regarding coding, coverage and payments.

What resources would you point RDNs to pertaining to insurance and reimbursement?   

Start with AND online community and:                                         

What insurance considerations are unique to Texas? 

Despite the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many [government-based] insurance companies do not cover nutrition services provided by dietitians.  Traditional Medicaid covers until age 20, while CHIP covers until age 18 only.  On the positive side, more companies are offering medical saving programs and health care accounts thus the employee can use these funds to pay for nutrition services. 

What change do you hope to see or are you excited about in the field of nutrition reimbursement?

I am hoping that Medicare expands coverage for more than diabetes and renal disease, and for at least six visits per calendar year.  I am excited that in Texas Medicaid will continue to cover multiple diagnoses and extend coverage until age 26.  I am also confident that more and more private insurances value the benefits of having registered dietitians in-network to provide MNT as a preventive service. 

What’s your favorite piece of advice you have received?  

Put your heart in everything you do and pay your debts of gratitude.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Everyone who comes to my office gets treated as though they are my father, mother, son, brother or sister. Hence, I provide my services using my heart first, then my technical/scientific knowledge flows unlimited, in turn, I am compensated with more treasures of the heart and financially as well. 

Parts of this interview have been shortened and edited.