Medical Laboratories, Hospitals, Doctors Turn to Zero-Interest Loans and Other Financing Options to Help Patients Pay Out-of-Pocket Medical Bills
To help patients pay their clinical laboratory test bills, Sonora Quest Laboratories partners with CarePayment to provide patients with no-interest loans
With tens of millions of Americans now covered by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), hospitals, physicians, and clinical laboratories now share a common problem: how to collect the full amount due for a patient who may have an annual deductible of $5,000 (individual) or $10,000 (family).
This is a significant problem for healthcare providers and Dark Daily has reported on this trend several times, most recently in “Hospitals, Pathology Groups, Clinical Labs Struggling to Collect Payments from Patients with High-Deductible Health Plans,” September 6, 2017.
Thus, many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will be interested in a new solution that the largest commercial laboratory company in Arizona is using to help cope with the need to collect larger amounts of money from patients with a high-deductible health plan. Recently, Senora Quest Laboratories announced an innovative collaboration with healthcare finance company CarePayment to ensure cost is not a barrier to clinical laboratory and pathology patients needing medical tests.
Sonora Quest Laboratories, which performs more than 60-million diagnostic tests per year in Arizona, has established a new partnership with CarePayment of Nashville to provide no-interest loans to any Sonora Quest patient whose testing bill exceeds $100.
David Dexter, Chief Executive Officer at Sonora Quest Laboratories, believes patients have a right to “affordable access to much-needed laboratory testing.” In a statement, Dexter notes, “Across Arizona, rising out-of-pocket medical costs are impacting families’ budgets, and ultimately, their health. No one should delay having clinical testing done because they are worried about costs.
“Sonora Quest Laboratories understands the importance of making healthcare services affordable to consumers,” he added. “We are working with CarePayment to do our part to provide affordable access to much needed laboratory testing. We believe this will help improve testing compliance and lead to better outcomes for patients managing chronic disease or monitoring their overall wellness.”
Annual Deductibles Rise 153% for Workers
The annual deductible that patients must cover is climbing, not just in Arizona, but nationally. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey, the average worker’s annual deductible has gone up 153% from 2009 to 2016. In addition, after meeting their annual deductibles, most workers face additional cost sharing for hospital admission or outpatient surgery.
To address the problem of collecting these larger deductibles from patients and to avoid racking up patient bad debt, Healthcare Finance News (HFN) points out that hospitals and healthcare providers are looking for financial solutions that “benefit both sides of the patient-provider relationship.”
To fill this need, a new type of company is popping up: third-party finance companies. CarePayment is one example. These new companies want to partner with hospitals and other healthcare organizations to identify patients who need assistance with out-of-pocket expenses. After a patient’s insurance company pays its portion of a bill, patients are referred to the healthcare finance company, which charges the hospital or provider a “discount factor” on the accounts it establishes.
Helping Clinical Laboratories, Pathology Groups Collect from Patients
According to CarePayment, enrollment in its programs is voluntary, requires no application, and has no impact on a patient’s credit score. CarePayment states that providers “double net collections on average” when patients use its financing solutions.
Craig Hodges, CEO of CarePayment, maintains innovative payment solutions are necessary because of the increased consumer responsibility for healthcare costs. “There’s evidence out there that asking a consumer to pay interest on top of their out-of-pocket expense is impractical,” Hodges stated in the HFN article. “Consumer responsibility for the [the total] bill has grown from sub 5% to 25%. There’s a lot of sticker shock out there.”
Third-party healthcare finance companies are not the only alternative financing option open to healthcare providers. Healthcare Finance News points out that Docpay offers automated clearinghouse payment plans, which require the patient to preauthorize a payment schedule from their bank account or credit card, guaranteeing payments are made each month. A service fee is charged to the patient that covers credit card processing fees as well as payment plan fees. According to the company’s website, a healthcare practice receives a higher net collection percentage than if they used a third-party financing company or processed credit card payments in-house.
Banks Get into the Act to Help Physicians, Hospitals, Medical Laboratories
NBC News adds that some hospitals are partnering with banks to offer patients no-interest or low-interest loans as well, with the goal of offering patients more affordable payment options while increasing payment rates.
David and Nicole Rayman of Chatham, Ill., told NBC News a zero-interest hospital loan saved them from high-interest financing after they were hit with an unexpected $2,800 bill to remove a benign growth from David’s neck. Under terms of the loan, they paid $80 a month for 36 months.
“That’s going out to dinner one time a month, so that’s definitely something we could cut out,” Nicole Rayman stated in the NBC News article.
Failure to Collect Bills Directly from Patients
While Hodges predicts that healthcare financing could potentially be a $70-billion industry, he also notes that growth has been fueled by providers’ difficulty communicating costs with consumers and collecting bills directly from them.
“As those high-deductible health plans grew over time, providers realized they didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with that,” Hodges noted in the HFN article. “The portion of the bill the patient was responsible for used to be small. As that grew, providers didn’t have the experience, in-house, to interact with the consumer in a consumer-like environment.”
While medical laboratories and other providers have been slow to embrace price transparency, Hodges believes simplified and transparent financial responsibility will fuel healthcare consumerism and improve the provider-patient relationship.
“My theory is that we have to evolve to total transparency,” he told Healthcare Finance News. “Here’s what the service is going to cost you from an out-of-pocket perspective—that’s the first step.”
This development is another sign HDHPs are creating financial challenges for clinical laboratories and pathology groups as more patients are unable to pay out-of-pocket cost for testing services. In this environment, medical laboratory managers and pathology practice administrators will need a strategy for collecting payments from patients at the time of service.
—Andrea Downing Peck