The push to get more people signed up for insurance plans through the ACA is ramping up during the ongoing open enrollment period (Feb. 15 – May 15), with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allocating a $2.3M boost to help uninsured Americans get enrolled.
While the latest figures from the National Health Interview Survey indicate some 30M Americans were uninsured between January and June 2020, more than 200,000 have already signed up for coverage since HealthCare.gov reopened as part of the administration’s COVID-19 response. With more financial responsibility shifting to patients and a heavy strain on providers’ resources caused by the pandemic, a solution that offers automated patient estimates can help ease some of the burden.
Providing financial counseling based on high-accuracy estimates helps patients make choices about their care and prepare to pay for what they’ll owe. Furthermore, repositioning some of your staff into pre-service financial counseling can increase both collections and patient satisfaction. Let’s take a look at what steps you can take to improve the financial experience.
The key role of financial counseling
The main role of a financial counselor is to serve as a patient advocate, educating patients on their insurance benefits and guiding them through payment and financial assistance options. Front-end staff play a key role in not only making patients aware of their out-of-pocket costs, but also knowing when to route patients to a financial counselor.
When these discussions occur prior to treatment, it creates a better patient experience and helps protect your bottom line. Like other critical areas of the rev cycle, having a team well-versed in financial counseling and knowledgeable about the billing process is of utmost importance, because it’s their work that ensures patients are more informed, more satisfied and more likely to pay their bills.
The importance of using the right tools
Not every provider can simply afford to start hiring more staff to fill these vital roles. Studies have shown that some of the top causes for negative billing experience include lack of price transparency, complex billing, lack of support or communication channels and inefficient payment options. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re getting the most out of your technology so you can refocus staff to engage patients at the right time with the right approach.
Collecting from patients can no longer be a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather every engagement needs to be personalized. This means providing patients with reliable, high-accuracy estimates upfront, utilizing predictive analytics to determine a patient’s propensity to pay, customizing digital and print statement delivery and providing simple, seamless methods to pay one’s bill or connect with a financial counselor to help navigate payment options.
While these efforts may seem extensive, the more informed and engaged a patient is about the financial process, the more likely medical bills get paid and loyalty to your organization increases.
How you can do more without hiring more
An automated patient estimation application can arm your financial counselors with accurate, real-time estimates based on the patient’s current level of coverage, so counselors can focus on engaging patients rather than calculating costs.
Estimate accuracy is important because it gives staff the confidence they need to clearly discuss out-of-pocket costs, while giving consumers a predictable breakdown for what they’ll owe so they can plan financially. The more often patients are presented upfront with their out-of-pocket responsibility, the more likely they’ll commit to paying and visit your organization the next time they seek care—a predictable and transparent financial experience will always lead to better patient engagement.
The wrap up
The role of the financial counselor in supporting patient payment should not be undervalued. Empowering the healthcare consumer is no longer a suggestion but a must in today’s healthcare environment. Providers must seek opportunities to automate estimates, deliver the right outreach, at the right time, with the right approach and provide a convenient, modern payment experience that makes payments painless.
A holistic consumer-friendly experience that includes clear, accurate information about a patient’s responsibility is simply the right thing to do. Providers who design their patient payment experience with robust financial clearance solutions and provide rich financial engagement and digital payment options will succeed in improving collections and increasing patient satisfaction.