Healthcare News & Insights

3 ways hospitals can reduce patients’ sticker shock

Thanks to Obamacare, the rate of uninsured Americans has dropped. But a new study shows the number of patients putting off care due to costs has actually gone up. 

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was designed to help more people find an affordable insurance plan and sign up for coverage. For the most part, the ACA has made good on that goal. Last year over 7 million people signed up for plans through federal or state exchanges. And according to ModernHealthcare, the Department of Health and Human Services saw about half a million new and returning costumers sign up for coverage during the first week of this year’s enrollment period.

Split over costs

But despite more people getting insurance, a recent Gallup poll shows that more Americans are delaying important treatments due to sticker shock about costs.

Researchers found one of three (about 33%) respondents said they or a family member has put off some form of care due to worries about the expense.

This issue seems to particularly affect those with private insurance. About 34% of respondents with private insurance said they had delayed care in 2014 compared to 25% in 2013.

What’s even more worrisome though, is that respondents said they were more likely to postpone care for serious medical conditions (22%) than they are for non-serious conditions (11%).

Researchers believe this data might reflect the growing number of high-deductible plans. They also hypothesize that the trend may be due to a lack of understanding about insurance plans and the variations in healthcare pricing. As a result, patients might become confused about how much of the cost is covered and then delay care out of fear that the treatments will be too expensive.

Addressing cost concerns

The Gallup data shows the importance of financial communication between physicians and providers to avoid “sticker shock” about treatment prices, which may lead cost-sensitive patients to delay care and increase the risk of more serious conditions developing during the delay.

Mark Rukavina, the presidents of Community Health Advisors, a healthcare consulting firm, shares some best practices for financial communication with Healthcare Finance News. Rukavina recommends:

  • Training. Your staffers should understand how to communicate appropriately with patients about costs, as well as why those conversations are important for your organization and the patient. Your employees should be upfront with patients about what they can expect in terms of paying for care. You also may want to look into what pricing data Medicare and other large payors may have released so staff can help patients better understand the pricing information.
  • Simplifying. It’s important that financial communication and education for patients is delivered in plain English. Avoid jargon as much as possible.
  • Being transparent. There are various guides about how hospitals can improve price transparency. If possible, give patients easy-to-use tools that allow them to make price comparisons before they receive care. Rukavina also advises that hospitals make their financial assistance and eligibility policies available to the public so patients understand what resources are available.

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