News Feature | July 3, 2014

Payment Trends Challenge Providers

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Payment Challenges

Instamed offers help to providers to maximize payments in the changing healthcare landscape.

Growth in the healthcare payments industry has been healthy, to be sure, but at least 25 to 50 cents on every healthcare dollar is still spent on administrative costs. As the industry is redefined by further reforms and changes in consumer behaviors, these costs will most likely continue to increase, having a significant impact on the way many providers do business.

Data from the 2013 Trends in Healthcare Payments Annual Report confirm the healthcare payments industry is evolving and outlines how providers can manage these changes. In particular, growth in consumer responsibility and the shift in payment methods will be crucial areas to increase focus.

As Health IT Outcomes reported, the report gathered and analyzed quantitative and qualitative data from the InstaMed Network, including $85 billion in healthcare payments volume from thousands of providers and payers. The latest trends featured in this report include the rise in consumer payment responsibility, the increased focus on the consumer in the healthcare payments process and the growing support for ERA/EFT (electronic remittance advice/electronic funds transfer) among payers and providers.

A recent blog post revealed the study found 67 percent of providers indicated that they saw an increase in patient responsibility. With higher deductibles, patients have had to become more cost-sensitive, taking a more active role in managing their health benefit decisions.

Further, 76 percent of providers said that it took more than one month to collect from a patient. Although the increase in consumer responsibility is accelerating, many providers still rely on paper-based, manual payment collection and posting processes. As a result, providers are spending more money and more time to collect, yet still accumulating a large amount of bad debt.

The study also found that 79 percent of patients said that they would prefer to pay online through their provider or health plan website, allowing them to manage, pay and understand their healthcare bills in one convenient place. Providers need to work with payers to help consumers take control of their healthcare payments.

Over half of patients said that they normally paid their monthly bills online, and 24 percent said that they paid those bills via their bank’s bill pay portal. By enabling consumers to pay their healthcare bills this way, providers reach consumers where they are already accustomed to paying other household bills, which improves the ability to collect patient payments and simplifies the healthcare payments process.

Meanwhile, over three quarters of providers indicated that they typically mailed more than one paper statement to collect a patient payment. Many industry experts believe that the recent influx of data and analytics due to innovation in healthcare technology, or Big Data, will give providers the ability to navigate the changes.

Yet, 72 percent of patients said that they did not know their payment responsibility following a visit. Consumers receive access to healthcare services with no assurance that they will pay their portion of the bill on time, or at all. Providers have opportunities to use Big Data and technology to accurately estimate responsibility and automatically collect payments, which creates a level of payment assurance already achieved in consumer-focused industries.

Finally, 76 percent of providers said that they offered the option of payment plans to their patients. As providers and their clients increasingly rely on consumer payments for revenue, many have started to use more consumer-centered strategies, like payment plans, to collect payments. However, they will have to implement best practices and policies – including automating payments and communications, and ensuring payment data is secure – to improve collection processes.