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Helping Patients Understand Insurance Benefits is Key

Helping Patients Understand Insurance Benefits is Key

Over the past several weeks, I've had the task of helping my own dad through some health issues. The biggest issue that we have run into multiple times is insurance challenges.

I know that I typically give you hints and tips to help lower your accounts receivable, get you paid on time, and manage your billing staff. But I'm going to take a different tack this week; focusing on the patient's viewpoint.

Before I get into the details of our struggle to help dad see the appropriate specialists, I feel it's most important to note that you and I are healthcare professionals. We do this job, everyday. We are immersed in professional jargon that sounds foreign to the typical patient. We understand (for the most part) that the laws are in place to protect the patient. We have to learn how to play nice with the insurance companies so that our practices get paid. Our patients don't really see this. From a patient's standpoint, they simply buy an insurance plan; they ask the practice to file a claim; and the insurance company pays what the practice is due. However, you and I know this is certainly not the case.

There is a huge gap between reality and what the patient thinks happens with their insurance plan. They do not understand that not only is it a plan they purchased, but they must also understand the nuances of that plan. Is outpatient physical therapy a covered benefit? Does the plan have a deductible? Is there a copay or coinsurance associated with some visits and not others? Is the doctor in network? The typical patient is truly not aware that this type of information is their responsibility to know.

So, that said, let me share my story. My dad has a Medicare replacement plan. He still thinks he has Medicare primary and UnitedHealthcare as a secondary insurance. So, lesson one when explaining patients' benefits prior to being seen is that they understand if they have a replacement plan, and not Medicare with a secondary.

Next, his primary physician referred him to a specialist. The specialist was 50 miles away. I'm not kidding. Dad gets to the appointment, and the office manager took him aside and said they do not accept his insurance; but he could pay the $3,000 out-of-network rate if he wanted to. No phone call, no warning about the physician's out-of-network status, nothing. Dad walked out and drove back 50 miles to his house and called me a few hours later. The next morning, Dad and I did a conference call with his medical group. I asked them why there wasn't a specialist in their group that he could see? I also said that if there isn't a physician that fits the requirements of Dad's care, they would have to provide the authorization to see an out-of-network physician, as that was not Dad's problem they didn't fill up their network. A few hours later poof! They found a doctor only 10 minutes from his house that was just credentialed that day. Shocking, I know. So, the medical group contacted the doctor's office and set up an appointment. They called us back on another conference call and let us know everything was taken care of. I asked, "Okay, I have my pen and paper, can you please provide the authorization number for this visit?" There was silence on the other end of the line. There were four people telling us seconds ago that everything was set up and ready to go and no one could provide the authorization number. They asked for a few minutes to call us back. The phone rang, an authorization for three visits was provided, I took names, phone numbers, etc.

My dad was so frustrated and completely confused about why things are so complicated, and wondered how was he supposed to know all of this?! Technically, he is supposed to know these things, but honestly, there is no way he would ever have been able to get this figured out without my help.

I suppose my point is when you have a patient that needs an authorization, or does not understand the difference between in-network and out-of-network status, please take the time to work with them. Be patient. Be kind. They are in pain or sick, and the last thing they want to worry about is their insurance plan.

It would be ideal if the insurance company took the time to explain plan details and teach patients how best to utilize their plan benefits. We know this will never happen, as it would be very costly for the insurance company.

Take it easy on your patients and find it in your heart to spend the necessary time with your patient; remember this likely someone's dad, mom, sister, or brother.

 
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