Medical laboratories and pathology groups should expect point-of-service collection strategies to become increasingly important to their overall success

Not only is patient bad debt a growing problem for the nation’s hospitals, but it is now getting national attention within the hospital industry. This is bad news for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, because the same trends causing increased patient bad debt at hospitals are doing the same thing within the lab industry.

Much of the blame can be attributed to the increase number of patients with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). The latest statistics reveal that patients’ out-of-pocket payments now make up 30% of hospital revenues. That is why hospitals desperately need strategies for successfully collecting payments from patients. And they’re not alone.

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported that more than half of all workers have deductibles and out-of-pocket liability of greater than $1,000. That is the reason why clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups also need a formula for collecting the total bill from their patients.

Jase DuRard, Chief Revenue Officer for revenue-cycle technology company AccuReg, told Modern Healthcare the increase in patient self-pay represents a seismic shift from roughly five years ago. At that time, patients paid only 10% of their hospital bills out-of-pocket and insurers paid about 90% of hospital claims.

Patient Responsibility to Blame for Revenue Loss at Nation’s Hospitals

A November 2016 study of 660 hospitals conducted by Crowe Horwath—an  international public accounting, consulting, and technology firm—stated that “patient responsibility” was to blame for an overall managed care net revenue decline of 2.5% for outpatient care and 1.4% for inpatient care. Self-pay-after-insurance (SPAI) collection rates have improved slightly during the past 12 months—with the inpatient median rising 0.2% and outpatient median increasing 0.7%.

However, according to the Horwath report, “While seemingly a good sign for providers in the face of rising patient copays and deductibles, slight increases in patient collection rates are not enough to counter the larger increase in self-pay-after-insurance patient responsibilities.”

High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are becoming the coverage of choice for healthcare consumers struggling to pay medical bills in full. The net effect is that revenues are declining at hospitals, clinical laboratories, and pathology groups, as well as other providers. (Graphic copyright: Consumer Reports.)

In a Modern Healthcare article, Crowe Horwath’s Managing Partner of Healthcare Services, Brian Sanderson, noted, “It’s imperative that healthcare organizations establish effective point-of-service collection programs by training and educating front-line staff.”

Complicating matters is that many patients faced with self-pay are unable to pay their medical bills at time of service.

“Higher deductibles and the increase in patient responsibility are causing a decrease in patient payments to providers for patient care services rendered,” John Yount, TransUnion Vice President for Healthcare Products, told RevCycle Intelligence. “While uncompensated care has declined, it appears to be primarily due to the increased number of individuals with Medicaid and commercial insurance coverage.”

Hospitals Offer Patients Financial Options for Paying Bills

Some hospitals are responding to this trend by rolling out programs that offer patients financing options for their out-of-pocket costs. A recent article in Modern Healthcare outlined the steps taken by Missouri hospital system Mosaic Life Care, as it realized the full impact that $23 million worth of self-pay patient care had on its bottom line. Though the hospital posted record census and gross revenue during the first four months of 2017, net revenue was flat because patient self-pay didn’t keep pace.

“We win all kinds of awards for patient quality, but our revenue cycle didn’t match that performance,” Deborah Vancleave,  Mosaic’s Vice President of Revenue Cycle, told Modern Healthcare.

Since then, Mosaic has taken steps to improve the accuracy of information it gets at registration and how it makes determinations on patients’ ability to pay. In addition, it has joined forces with ClearBalance— a provider of patient loan programs to US hospitals and health systems—to offer zero-interest or low-interest revolving lines of credit to patients for their out-of-pocket medical costs.

According to Modern Healthcare, ClearBalance pays hospitals “upfront for the outstanding bills of patients who sign up for their financing program, but the hospital guarantees the money and repays lenders if patients default on their credit lines. The companies make their profit by getting a 10% to 15% fee for the outstanding amount of the loan.”

Medical Laboratories Slow to Respond to Consumer Demand for Price Transparency

As consumers shoulder more of the burden for their healthcare, they also will be demanding more price transparency from medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, which so far have been slow to respond to the trend.

“Patients expect cost estimates in every other retail industry, and are starting to demand them in healthcare as well. According to one recent study, for example, more than 90% of patients felt it was important to know their payment responsibility upfront,” TransUnion, a global risk information provider, stated in a white paper outlining the importance of precare cost estimates.

As hospitals struggle to collect from patients saddled with HDHPs, laboratory executives and other healthcare providers should take note. The change in payment mix means the ability to collect payments from patients at the point of service is becoming a critical success factor.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

Hospitals Struggle with the Dilemma of Patients Hit by High Deductibles

Kaiser Family Foundation 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey

The Impact of Consumerism on Provider Revenues

Patient Financial Responsibility On the Rise

Improve Revenue Cycles and Patient Engagement by Delivering Pre-Care Cost Estimates

68% of Consumers Did Not Pay Patient Financial Responsibility