How to Improve Patient Collections Impacted by COVID-19

According to this Commonwealth Fund report, millions of Americans have medical bill problems, and even more don’t have stable health coverage because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that going into 2021, your health facility will be seeing more uninsured, self-pay and Medicaid patients, and you’re likely to experience an increase in bad debt. New bankruptcy claims are also on the rise.

It’s time to overhaul your medical bill collection strategies, or at least tweak it. Your collection strategy must be more flexible to accommodate the pandemic’s effect on your patients’ income. Here are some tips to help you collect medical bill balances from the insured to uninsured and self-pay patients during and after this pandemic.

Discover and Verify Patient Health Coverage

Confirming that your patient has health coverage or insurance before (or immediately after if unable to verify before treatment) you provide healthcare services helps prevent billing delays. If you’ve been utilizing best practices in your revenue cycle management, you’re most likely already doing this, but you should ramp up your efforts. You can do this by helping recently unemployed or uninsured patients to find valuable health coverage sources. Some patients who don’t have commercial insurance may be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Also, put in measures to identify under-insured patients, as well as make sure to collect copayments, coinsurance, and past due balances in advance.

Be Transparent with the Bills

Educating patients on the pricing of the care they are receiving makes the process transparent and makes it easier for them to choose the more convenient payment option. For instance, when you provide out-of-pocket cost estimates to your patients, they can realistically determine how they can make the payment easily.

In the end, this translates to you collecting the bill faster, as the patients choose the most convenient option for them.  This is especially valuable to patients who are recently uninsured or are facing high deductibles from their insurance company. Thus, train your frontline staff on different payment options, including deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket costs, so they can guide patients to select the best plan for their financial condition. 

Set Digital Collection Options

If your billing and collection process isn’t digital, the chances are that your patients aren’t paying their healthcare bills because the process is frustrating. In fact, most of them may consider switching to another facility with a digital patient billing and collections process. This is even more important with the COVID-19 social distancing rules. Therefore, by simply upgrading your collection process to a digital platform, you can prompt more patients to pay their bills. Besides being convenient, it’s also contactless, which is essential for social-distancing during the pandemic.

One way you can make your collection process digital is by sending emails with information about the bill and a link to where patients can make payment. Or, you could send text messages to patients with a link to a page where they can find all the information needed to pay their bills. Furthermore, if your facility has a website, include a patient portal, where they can simply log in to check and pay their medical bills. You can also build a mobile app for bill collection, appointment scheduling and telehealth services.

Offer Flexible Payment Options

A flexible payment plan that allows patients to pay their bills in installments over a period is a good collection strategy. It is especially great for patients who don’t have health coverage and can’t self-pay their bills at once. So, your patients would be motivated to pay part of the bill periodically until they offset all of it at a negotiated date. And, you get to avoid acquiring bad debt and get more income flow into your facility.  

You can implement this strategy by having patients register for a convenient payment plan before offering medical service. When setting the a monthly installment amount, begin high until an outcome is achieved that meets both your needs and your patient’s situation. Offer the convenience of an automatic deduction with monthly reminders as a time saving option. Another tip is to ask how much s/he can pay today and then set repayment for the balance. Finally, ensure your medical practice’s financial policy is current with payment collection processes as well as continual training with front and back office staff to ensure a smooth experience for all parties.

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