How effective is your process for collecting money upfront, at the time of service?
Do you have to stop and think, or do you know your answer?
If you do, congratulations!
You belong to a select few who know the numbers of their business, including payments from patients.
Unfortunately, many practices find it challenging to keep up with financial information about their business.
And many offices struggle with what should be simple and straightforward, collecting money from patients for their part of the bill.
But why is that?
For one thing, the insurance landscape has changed.
Over the years, collecting money from patients has morphed into something far more complicated than it should be.
Consumers today are paying more than ever before for their healthcare. In the past, they enjoyed a wider range of benefits at lower costs, because coverage through the employer was better.
But more and more, that’s becoming a thing of the past.
Many employers, including larger corporations, no longer offer “generous” health insurance coverage.
Today, a substantial portion of the cost of health insurance is shifting to consumers.
- There are more High Deductible High Premium (HDHP) plans.
- Patients are faced with significant co-pays and higher co-insurance.
- Patients are expected to shoulder higher and higher deductibles.
- Out of pocket costs are soaring, even for those with insurance.
The bottom line is this…
Healthcare in America is getting more and more expensive every day!
And consequently, even insured Americans today report difficulty keeping up with payments or affording health care altogether.
Years ago, most practices only “balance-billed” their patients.
It was common practice not to ask for any payment at time of service. Bills would go out once insurance reimbursements had processed. And since it was not uncommon for insurance to cover everything, some patients never received a bill.
For the most part, these days are gone for good.
But there are practices that still “balance bill,” when they should collect payments along the way: copays, co-insurance, and deductibles.
Because patient responsibility is a significant portion today, you want to collect money as soon as you can, ideally at the time of service.
Improve the Process
Frequently, both staff and providers feel uncomfortable when it comes to money. Talking about money, asking for money…
And it’s no surprise. The money conversation seems to be in direct conflict with the prime directive of healthcare: caring, helping, healing…
It’s far more comfortable when you’re part of an organization. The direct conflict between helping and asking for money doesn’t come up, because the role of helping has been separated from the financial role.
But of course, that’s different when you’re in your own practice… there may not be a separation between roles. You may be the one asking for money and delivering care.
And that’s why it’s important you’re comfortable with both roles. Because if you’re not, you may not be able to keep the doors to your practice open for long.
Now it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself:
- How comfortable am I with the “money thing?”
- How effective are my employees asking for money, at the time of service?
- What processes do I have in place that help us get the job done?
By now you can see how important it is to collect patient payments at the time of service. It’s far easier to pay and collect smaller amounts of payments than presenting patients with one huge bill.
But in case you’re not convinced, here are two more reasons for collecting patient responsibility at the time of service.
Improve your Cash Flow
While this reason is apparent, many offices don’t seem to take it under considerations.
Think about it…
As I said earlier, the amount of patient responsibility is increasing. Today, patients pay higher copays, more co-insurance, and often sky-high deductibles.
Depending on your business model and insurance mix, the amount of money patients must pay may be a significant part of your overall revenue today.
And here’s where it gets tricky…
Because if you don’t collect all patient responsibility, you stand to lose thousands of dollars in revenue each year. Can you afford that?
And if you or members of your staff think it’s ok not to collect a copay or deductible because a patient just lost a job, or… think again.
You see if you don’t collect all copays, coinsurance, and deductibles from patients, prepare yourself for the loss of revenue, lots of revenue.
Not collecting all the money due from patients may even force you to close your practice down the road. Because at some point it may no longer be financially viable to keep your doors open.
But that’s not the only reason…
Not collecting copays, co-insurance, and deductibles not only may cost you in revenue, but it could also lead to trouble with the law.
Most insurance companies require certain payments from patients, as detailed in the agreement you’ve signed with the company. If you fail to collect these payments, you could find yourself in violation of a legally binding contract.
At times front desk staff may excuse patients that can’t pay. Or they may let them slide by because of extenuation circumstances.
It’s important you train your staff, so they understand your legal obligations when it comes to collecting payments from patients. Additionally, staff should work with patients to help them pay what they owe, instead of ignoring or forgetting about a bill altogether.
It’s vital to the health of your practice that you collect all patient responsibility at the time of service. Because if you don’t, you could you end up in legal trouble or be forced to close your practice down the road.
Becoming aware and understanding the importance of your front desk procedures is the first step. The next step is to evaluate your current systems and work to increase their effectiveness.
If you’d like to learn how to successfully collect more at your front desk without alienating your patients or feeling guilty, go here now.
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.“