Informed Patients Are More Likely to Meet Financial Obligations
H.R. 1767, better known as the Medical Debt Responsibility Act of 2013, was supposed to amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to require credit reporting agencies to delete medical debt within 45 days of payment or settlement; however, like similar bills introduced in 2010, 2011, and 2012, it failed to become law. Rather than waiting for Congress to act, perceptive providers have learned there is value in acting as a steward of patients’ financial health.
For example, your healthcare organization should actively inform medical consumers about the cost of healthcare services. In fact, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), consumers are now entitled to receive cost estimates before receiving healthcare services. Healthcare providers can assist by sharing with patients the following cost estimation resources:
- Healthcare Blue Book (www.healthcarebluebook.com)
- Fair Health (www.fairhealth.org/Toolsforconsumers)
These websites offer a wealth of information about usual and customary costs for various procedures by region and other search-defined options. Arming your patients with tools such as these allows patients to plan better and to make payment arrangements with the practice, ahead of time. Informed patients will likely stay with your practice, even if faced with costly procedures, and they are likely to spread the word on how well your practice takes care of them, both financially and physically.
You may wish to offer a patient advocacy discount for some individuals, but be wary of offering discounted rates simply because a patient is uninsured. For example, a patient with no insurance recently demanded that I allow him to pay the insurance discounted rate. But is it appropriate to charge the same rate to an uninsured patient as to a patient who has dutifully paid his or her premiums, year after year? Consider informing patients of the financial protections offered under the ACA. With a maximum per year out-of-pocket expense of $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families, and premium payment assistance, coverage may be more affordable than the patient realizes.
John S. Aaron Jr., CPC, is a member of the Northbrook, Ill., local chapter. He served as president in 2013 and has 15 years of billing and coding experience. Aaron is in the process of establishing a billing service with a focus on patient advocacy. You can follow him on Twitter at: @ClaimChek.