Patient billing is a mess. At the very least, it is becoming much more common for patients who struggle to understand their bills and make medical billing patient friendly, all thanks to the proliferation of high-deductible healthcare plans. That’s why we are excited to see the Healthcare Financial Management Association continue to push the idea that providers need to reform and simplify patient billing.
In a recent issue of its journal, the HFMA notes that weaknesses in our current patient billing system are starting to emerge on the “national agenda,” along with promising new ideas and solutions that will help patients understand the costs.
This spring, the Department of Health and Human Services highlighted the confusion that patients face:
“People who use health care in the United States today can often receive bills from multiple hospitals, doctors, labs or specialists for the same episode of care that vary in context, presentation and use of health-industry jargon. Because of this, it can be difficult for patients to understand what they owe, what their insurance plan covers, and whether the bills are correct or complete.”
The first solution is to fix what is sorely lacking in the health-care industry: standardized patient-friendly billing. Increasing numbers of patients are now interacting with medical billing, which was traditionally the realm of health insurance companies. With a lack of standards comes confusing bills that are designed for insurance companies. “This can result in anxiety or frustration, and can lead to problematic outcomes, such as hesitancy to seek care, non-payment, under-payment, or over-payment of medical expenses.”
Closing the Gap
A recent contest, A Bill You Can Understand, sponsored by AARP and a design agency, united a group of patients, care providers and insurance companies to come up with a new design for a streamlined bill. The contest sought designs that clearly convey what the patient owes and why, in everyday language, and in a format that is easy for patients to use and understand. Six health systems across the country committed to testing winning entries, which were announced in late September.
In addition, the HFMA has begun an initiative called the Patient Friendly Billing project, which is aimed at helping healthcare leaders “better understand hospital pricing systems and the steps necessary for restructuring.” Also, its Healthcare Dollars & Sense program spotlights price transparency and better communication with patients.
It’s a good sign that the HFMA is beating the drums because bad billing experiences can seriously sabotage patient satisfaction and erect more barriers between people and healthcare. Healthcare leaders who embrace streamlined billing will have taken the first step toward winning over patients, and we hope they will see a big improvement in on-time payments, too.
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