While $275 may not seem like a lot to some, it was a shock to me, and something I wasn’t prepared for. This is an all too familiar story and a large reason why medical practices need to increase patient engagement and communication amongst practitioners. It’s beneficial to set clear expectations in regards to the patient’s financial responsibility before the appointment is even scheduled. It’s vital for everyone involved – the insurance companies, the medical practice, and especially the patient to understand what is owed. Patients are consistently confused about what they owe. Last year, 42% of consumers said they were confused by the bills they received from their providers.
Surprise Bills Are the Worst Kind.
If I Don’t Understand, Do I Still Have to Pay It?Who wants to pay a bill when they aren’t sure they “really” owe what is listed on that bill? A friend of mine who recently had a baby, shared that she received multiple bills from various doctors. Now, eight months later, the bills are still being altered, corrected, and worked out by her insurance company and the hospital. Meanwhile, she’s been sent to collections, and now has a healthy baby and an unhealthy financial situation. According to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, 8 out of 10 hospital bills contain mistakes.
I Have to Pay for My Dinner, But Not My Doctor?Due to a change in FICO scoring, medical bills now weigh less on your credit score, thus patients have even less of an incentive to pay their doctors. Working for a medical billing software company has shown me how much patient debt some practices are writing off. Meanwhile, doctors are becoming banks that provide financing for patients that are trying to pay their medical bills. Sometimes it takes patients years to completely pay their doctors, while the patients who are unwilling to pay their medical bills, or just simply can’t, are written off as bad debt with little to no repercussions for lack of payment.
Give Me Options, like Paying Hospital Bills OnlineI want to pay my bill, but I’d rather do it online. My phone bill, my rent, my car payment, and even my power bill get easily through my providers' online portal. Just like choosing an affordable phone plan, residence, automobile, or setting up fixed utility payments, I should be able to pay hospital bills online. I enjoy the convenience of setting up automatic payments on a schedule that I choose. Unless it’s a personalized greeting card, I absolutely hate getting mail, where most of it ends up in either the trash or the shredder. I’m not alone! 93 percent of consumers would pay online through their provider’s or a health plan website. Providers need to understand, as a patient, we need multiple payment options and most of us, would rather pay you online.
The Struggle is Real, and How Patient Payment Plans Can HelpEven with insurance, many patients are struggling to pay medical bills. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that one-third of Americans struggle to pay their medical bills. With increases in high deductible plans, the rising costs of prescription drugs (nearly 123.7% from 2000 to 2013), and stagnating income, it’s no wonder I’m more likely to go into bankruptcy from my medical bills than by supporting my shoe fetish. High deductible plans aren’t going away. If you don’t currently have patient payment plans options for your patients, you need to. There are many great options available to help patients pay their medical bills. Practices need to start offering these options to their most difficult payers; their patients. Just be sure to vet out these programs to ensure they have your patient in mind, and won’t hit them hard with high interest fees if they default on payments. Imagine recently launched HonorCare®, a flexible, interest free option for patient payment plans. As a patient, and someone who works closely with providers and medical practices, this is a wake up call for providers to start offering patients more payment plan options, continue increasing patient engagement, and provide patients with the most accurate explanation of what they owe.
Now, let it be clear that I’m not saying it's acceptable to not pay your doctor. My goal is to provide a unique insider’s perspective from both a patient who has experienced frustrations and confusion surrounding medical bills, and as a professional, whose daily job is helping providers and medical practices with patient collections.