Adverse effect of pandemic is rise in an unemployment, providers need to optimize self-pay collection strategies to support patients and revenue collection during this difficult time.
Healthcare is the industry most at-risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Providers are on the front lines of response efforts. At the same time, the financial implications of the pandemic are also creating significant revenue cycle challenges, putting providers even more at risk during the pandemic.
With over 36 million Americans claiming unemployment at the end of March 2020, the number of individuals without health insurance is reaching record highs. If projections by the Federal Reserve hold up, upwards of 7.3 million workers and their family members will become uninsured by the time the pandemic has run its course.
Payments for health insurance deductibles increased by 229 percent – over seven times the 31 percent rate of increase in wages during that same period, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. For households with limited resources, the simple fact is that growing financial responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses was already competing with basic needs, such as mortgage payments, car payments, and food. Today, these challenges are even more emotional and overwhelming for many patients as they face unemployment for an unknown period. This spells trouble for healthcare providers who are treating COVID-19 patients, including those without healthcare coverage.
Engage Patients for Self-pay collections
In the past, the most common source of friction was patient confusion about how much he or she owes for services after insurance. Today, with roughly 45 percent of Americans being inadequately insured, an increasing number of patients are stressed about making ends meet. This financial uncertainty means it is more important than ever for patients to understand the upfront payments required at the time of care.
It is also essential for hospitals, health systems, or medical groups to provide digital tools that allow patients to keep them involved in the revenue cycle over time.
“Its clear many organizations haven’t found the best solution to maximize the time they spend [speaking on] the phone with patients or sending out [collection] letters — whatever approach they take to interact with patients,” says Law. “And in the current healthcare environment, or even after the pandemic has ended and we ramp back up to normal, those low-touch approaches may not close the gap.”
When health entities try to make the most of their IT investments, they may use software patches and manual workarounds to make older legacy systems meet modern business needs. Although this might initially seem like a cost-effective solution, Law has found this approach to be more expensive and resource-intensive than purchasing new technology upfront. This insight rings especially true in revenue cycle management, where inefficient IT not only contributes to expensive overhead but can also cause organizations to leave revenue on the table.
Three digital solutions driving patient financial experience and providers’ bottom lines.
Estimate the price
Helping patients understand what they owe and why is key to developing an action plan for patient collections. A recent survey by HealthEdge linked increased price transparency to both improved patient satisfaction and patient payment rates. Giving patients accurate price estimates on the front-end — rather than expecting them to use online estimators at home — ensures patients understand their responsibility and gives them time to prepare, thereby improving providers’ likelihood of receiving payment.
Assessing propensity to pay
What a patient owes and what he or she can afford may differ, especially when they are just returning to work and may have other bills to catch up on. Tools that forecast a patient’s ability to pay can be just as valuable as price estimators in developing more effective collection strategies. These tools help organizations fine-tune the financial counseling aspect of making payments by determining a patient’s likelihood of paying out-of-pocket expenses based on credit history and past payment behaviors, among other factors.
Flexible communication infrastructure
Using patient demographics, providers can enhance patient financial engagement by investing in flexible communication strategies that put patients in control of their financial interactions.
By providing patients with a range of communication channels and opportunities, patients are more likely to engage with the channel that works best for them, thereby improving patient engagement and providers’ chances of recouping payment.
Choosing the right financial solutions partner is key to satisfying parties on both sides of the table and staying true to deeper values during this global crisis and the resulting period of recovery that will inevitably come.