More money is due from patients than ever before. While self-pay patients are always a concern, the primary reasons more dollars are due is a function of those patients who have healthcare plans in force.
Two reasons dominate the issue.
- The increasing use of high deductible healthcare insurance plans; and
- Carriers increasing co-pay amounts regularly
If your practice has had issues with insurance carriers who make a habit of paying late, you have probably installed procedures to hasten payments from these lackadaisical payers. But, what about your patients having high deductible plans or those enduring higher co-pays.
Why allow your accounts receivable increase while your cash flow decreases? Establish a plan to maximize your collections from patients. It need not be overly complex or challenging to execute. However, your plan should include these components, at a minimum.
Collection Plan Considerations
- Make it clear and understandable. Avoid confusing "legalese" or sophisticated terminology and buzzwords.
- Fill any "holes" and eliminate ambiguities in the written procedure. Unless you use an attorney who specializes in collections or veteran collections consultant, you may allow some loopholes or ambiguous statements to inhabit your practice policy. After you believe your collections strategy is complete and ready to be published, read it again, specifically trying to find any holes or language that may be ambiguous.
- Communicate with and train both front- and back-office staff on the new policy. Unless you plan on collecting co-pays and deductibles personally, your staff will have this duty. Expecting even seasoned personnel to enforce a procedure of which they are unaware is foolhardy. Having training sessions will give them the information they need to follow the policy, while encouraging questions about any features they may not understand at first glance.
- Include a procedure to contact late payers around every two weeks to remind your patients they have a balance due. This approach allows practice staff to be diplomatic and friendly, before the balance becomes seriously overdue.
- Publish the policy, posting the major components (if possible), so your patients know what is expected of them. With various independent studies indicating that co-pays alone can account for up to 20 percent of practice income, posting your policy helps eliminate patient comments like "I didn't know I had to give you my co-payment before or immediately after my visit." Displaying your patient collection policy in a prominent, heavily viewed place reminds your patients that plan co-pays are payable at the time of service or treatment.
- Remain objective, keeping your "feelings" out of your collection policy. This is not the time to become "Marcus Welby, M.D." (that was only a 1960s TV show, anyway). You became a physician to keep patients healthy or make sick people get well, but you can only fulfill your mission if your practice remains open and financially sound.
- If your A/R aging is reaching unacceptable levels, have procedures to collect seriously overdue outstanding balances. This may seem obvious, but some provider-designed collection strategies and plans do not address this condition. Whether you train your practice staff how to be "firm, but courteous" or farm out overdue balances to a medical collections firm, make a policy for handling these situations.
These are some of the important components of collecting more monies due from your patients. Those that always pay on time can disregard the practice policy, as they do not need to know its features. However, those patients who habitually require more formal collection efforts may become profitable, making co-pays and remitting balances faster.