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4 Ways to Help Patients When They Can’t Afford Care

The rise in insurance deductibles has lead to a significant shift in financial responsibility to the patient. An increasing number of patients are either uninsured or underinsured.

Half of all insurance policyholders face a deductible of at least $1,000. A recent survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board found that over 40% of adults claim they cannot come up with $400 in an emergency. Physicians and care providers are often left in a situation where they have to decide whether to turn a patient away, accept less for their services or come up with other ways to help patients get the care they need, while still ensuring the financial stability of their business.

4 Ways to Help Patients

Here are options that can lead to cost savings for the patient without compromising quality care.

  1. Be transparent – full disclosure of costs encourages patients to plan ahead and pay promptly. Verify insurance eligibility prior to the appointment, and inform the patient of the approximate costs so they  can account for it in their decision-making process (if they agree to be seen or not) which can lead to more payment collections upfront.
  2. Create a policy – practices should establish a policy that outlines how they’ll collect unpaid balances, and develop guidelines for different scenarios. Decide and document whether you can offer a financial break to low income or self-pay patients with a sliding fee schedule which is a discount based on a family’s income. For patients with extreme financial or health problems, would they qualify to be seen, Pro Bono? There needs to be a firm policy on when your office will accept partial patients, or not treat those who can’t pay for their care. If you and your patient can’t agree on a fee – consider referring them to a local community hospital or clinic that offers low-cost or no-cost care to patients with financial stress.
  3. Offer payment plans – setting up payment plans is another way to help patients who are struggling to meet their financial obligation to your practice. Set up a credit card on file and an agreement with the patient on a monthly charge toward their debt. Patient portals are another way to collect unpaid balances and help alleviate some of the burdens from patients. They are able to pay when they can and conveniently through a secure online portal.
  4. Get creative – some patients are unable to pay cash or credit for their care, but may be able to pay in services or goods. Although this is less common, it is possible to arrange for an exchange – called the barter system. For example, you could exchange a consult for having your website re-designed or for an office cleaning. If you choose this option, make sure to agree on the value of the service/goods in advance and declare them as income at tax time.

Practices are having trouble collecting what is owed, and patients are struggling to pay out-of-pocket for care. Disclosing costs to patients upfront, drafting a policy and offering multiple options for payments are ways to keep your practice growing while still maintaining a high level of patient care.



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