Today many healthcare facilities are facing new challenges as a result of this unprecedented health crisis. According to the Medical Group Management Association, 97% of physician practices have experienced adverse financial effects directly or indirectly related to COVID-19. While priority one for each organization is to ensure the care and safety of patients and team members, providers cannot help but be concerned about collecting copayments and co-insurance amounts. COVID-19 has brought a financial tsunami to the doorstep of every medical practice. There are fewer opportunities for collecting unpaid balances as patients are not coming to the office frequently.
The transition to a social-distancing operational model has added a layer of complexity. No one knows what the “new normal” will look like, but if medical practices want to keep their doors open, they have to rethink their Collection strategies. We have compiled some tips to help healthcare practices maximize patient collections and cash to ensure a smooth cashflow COVID-19 and beyond.
1. Deploy Payment Plans
Many patients will not be able to resolve their balances due to unemployment fully. While practices may currently allow the patient to make full or partial payments, offering flexible payment plans can be crucial to help patients pay their due balances. It includes the ability to provide scheduled, automated payments to follow pre-arranged payment options. Explore what options are available, but don’t forget to secure payment plans with a bank account or credit card.
2. Coordinate with your collection vendors
Get in touch with your collection vendors to help ensure their operational model and charters are ready to align with the current pandemic situation. If your collection vendors have not updated you on this yet, consider scheduling calls or meetings soon to discuss adjustments to call scripts, letters, and punitive actions. Know this is the right time to invest in technology and process changes to support your payment collections both now and in the future.
3. Focus on insurance verification
During the current public health crisis, it is more important than ever to ensure that your front office staff make a photocopy of each insurance card and validate the information accordingly. There will be instances like when patients have lost their jobs, changed insurances, or have become Medicaid-eligible, so you need to have a way to determine and sort out those changes. On top of this, you need to identify patients who have switched from commercial insurance to Medicaid – these payers often require referrals and pre-authorization for various services.
4. Consider accelerating prompt-pay discounting
Many healthcare practices provide a prompt-pay incentive to encourage patients to resolve their balances within 30 days. It is a convenient time to consider short-term plans to accelerate the patient-friendly discounting process to resolve more open account balances to avoid financial hardships during COVID-19 and beyond. Offering discounts to even balance-after-insurance accounts and self-pay, when right, may increase patient collections.
5. Consider paperless intakes
If patients visit the office (for physicals, vaccines, or any other examination), they may not want to touch a keypad, tablet, stylus to check in and make a payment. Consider allowing them to pay outstanding balances and complete paperwork in advance using their own devices. It will not only quell anxiety but also improve patient engagement and satisfaction.
6. Monitor America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) website.
During this public health emergency, many payers are bound to waive off co-insurance amounts or copayments or both. The AHIP site provides information on payer policies, so consider having someone to follow them regularly. If the policy is unclear, contact the payer directly and ask for clarification. You should know if the payer is waiving all costs or just the ones associated with COVID-19. Ask the payer how they are handling cost-sharing for telehealth and the effective dates for the coverage.
7. Increase screening for government and commercial insurance coverages
Consider pre-screening balance-after-insurance and uninsured accounts by deploying automated coverage discovery processes to check for missing primary and secondary insurance. Look for solutions that can provide the functionality to instream this automation into your existing early-out programs quickly. It will boost not only patient satisfaction rates but also accelerate overall revenues.
8. Offer financial assistance programs
There may be patients who meet the criteria for low-income shortly due to increasing unemployment. So, if your practice does not already have a financial assistance policy to provide relief for low-income patients, you may consider instituting one to get additional flexibility.
9. Know your obligations under the CARES Act
Physicians must meet all terms and conditions if they accept financial support through the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. The CARES Act says that physicians are not able to pursue patients for any out-of-network balances.
10. Consider Offloading Billing to a Medical Billing Service
For many practices, the reality of managing reimbursements with reduced staff and social distancing patients will be a significant decrease in collections. Many medical practices have already reported furloughing or laying off their staff due to COVID-19 related financial difficulties. It can be an excellent time to consider bringing a third party biller on board. You have the option to outsource your billing to your EMR company for a free EMR and PM system. Get in touch with your current vendor to see what financial arrangement they can offer you in these times.
Read: Comparison of Medical Billing Service Rates of Top Vendors
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Plan ahead for Patient Collections During COVID-19 Crisis
With physician practices seeing a decline in patient volumes at all times, now is the time to work towards improving your internal workflows. Make the most of this time by addressing the following questions:
- Were our collection rates trending in the right direction pre-pandemic?
- What does our collection rate during COVID-19 suggest?
- Should we invest in technology to improve our collections?
- Do we need to rethink staffing models?
Healthcare organizations that analyze these questions and adopt technology solutions will be prepared for the uncertainties—during COVID-19 and beyond.
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