Office Visit Co-Pays: Set a Policy for Positive Gain

By Jill Young, CPC, CEDC, CIMC — East Lansing, MI

Are you aggravated by accounts with small balances as you work your receivables; those small balances that show up on your reports as co-pays that were not collected at the time of service? If your office doesn’t have a policy for collection of co-pays BEFORE the patient is seen, now is the time to start. The expense of statements and working accounts receivable to collect these balances is money that may not offset that $10 or $25 co-pay you’re chasing.

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As an instructor, I polled my students during the past five years for their office policy. In that time, the percentage of offices collecting co-pays at the time of check-in has increased from about 15 percent when I started tracking to more than 75 percent in 2010. All agree it was a worthwhile change.

Today’s difficult economic times have left many patients with higher co-pays, deductibles, and even no insurance. Then, there are the Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which present their own challenges to your collection process.

To ensure a successful transition to this new office policy, start three months prior. A letter to patients explaining your office’s new policy as you attempt to keep costs down in the current economic environment works to notify and prepare patients for the change. Also, posted notices and statement messages in the reception area can increase awareness for your patients. It’s best to only collect co-pays that are a set known amount (e.g., $10 or $25). The increase in front desk cash flow and the decrease in back office accounts receivable work will result in a net positive for any practice.

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