Collecting money from patients is an ongoing challenge that has only worsened with high-deductible health plans.
Collecting money from patients is an ongoing challenge that has only worsened with high-deductible health plans. Traditionally, physicians have accepted this challenge as the status quo, instead choosing to overlook unpaid balances and provide the care that patients need. However, experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted them to rethink this strategy and take a more proactive, business-savvy approach.
Patient collections: A complex issue
“Medical practices are really in a lot of trouble right now — especially independent primary care practices — because of lower reimbursement,” says Rozmin Bapat, CCS-P, CPB, CPC, CPCO, CPMA, president of CodeRite Healthcare Consulting. “A lot of doctors are asking patients to pay up front. Sending statements is a big cost drain on their revenue.”
Still, asking for payment and receiving it are two different things. Asking is, of course, the first step; however, practices also need to address this major barrier: Patients don’t understand their health insurance benefits, including what they owe and, more importantly, why.
“What we’ve seen is that office staff are not trained properly,” says Bapat. “They can’t explain the bill, and it leads to more patient frustration.”
Another layer of complexity? The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that certain credit-reporting firms have already started to remove medical debt that consumers pay after their bill goes to collections—debt that can sometimes remain on a credit report for up to seven years. Starting in 2023, some credit-reporting firms will also remove unpaid medical debt of less than $500. Asking patients to pay their medical bill may become more difficult when there are fewer financial consequences.
Patient collection strategies for success
Experts provide the following strategies to ease the burden of patient collections and improve cashflow and revenue.
Experts agree that now is the time to improve the patient collections process. “Health care organizations need to compensate staff, invest in new technology, and support the services they offer to patients,” says Hutson. “Reimbursement for health care services is essential to sustaining high quality care to the communities they serve.”