Hospital bills have become costly for patients, so many aren’t paying them. It’s become a battle for facilities to collect balances from patients and, as a result, bad debt is increasing. However, some hospitals are using different strategies to work with patients so they can get paid.
According to an article in Reuters, healthcare plans with high deductibles have become more popular in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. While they offer patients lower premiums, they also come with larger out-of-pocket expenses for treatment. That’s a big contributor to an increase in uncompensated care costs for hospitals.
For 2015, the latest year for which numbers were available, hospitals accumulated close to $36 billion in costs for uncompensated care.
How facilities respond
In the past, it was rare for hospitals to broach the topic of costs with patients who were coming in for a planned treatment or procedure. Now, due to the rise in bad debt, it’s become a standard element of conversation.
Communicating financial information to patients is key in an era of high-deductible plans. Patients often don’t realize their full payment responsibilities for care, thinking their insurance policies will cover everything. But if hospitals are more transparent about pending medical costs, it helps patients make more informed decisions about the medical treatments they’ll receive.
Mounting debt from insured patients has changed other protocols as well. Example: One hospital in Iowa, the Henry County Health Center, now gives patients a packet with estimated cost information and medical advice before surgery. The hospital also offers discounts on balances if they’re paid in full early.
Additionally, more facilities are requiring patients to pay a certain percentage of their expected balance (or the entire balance) prior to scheduled procedures and appointments.
If patients can’t pay up front, hospitals have started steering patients toward no-interest loans through companies that specialize in healthcare lending. Many of these companies can offer patients loans regardless of their credit history, and the repayment period can be extended longer than the typical time limits in the standard hospital collections process.
While some patients will opt out of receiving certain treatments due to cost, others will take advantage of flexible payment options and do their best to fulfill their financial obligations as quickly as possible, especially if they’re told about potential costs right away.
Because of this, it’s in hospitals’ best interest to start being more transparent about costs from the beginning. Plus, procedures and treatments for these patients will only get more costly as their health declines, so the faster the issue of payment is resolved, the better.
Facilities can also make sure they’re able to present a variety of options to patients for settling their debts, including loans and payment plans.