A Medical Debt Collection Task Force led by the Healthcare Financial Management Association, ACA International and a group of diverse stakeholders, including medical providers and consumer advocates, recently announced new best practices to help make paying of medical bills an easier and fairer proposition for consumers.
“Many consumers are struggling with medical bills today,” said ACA International CEO Pat Morris. “These best practices are a balanced step forward for all of the stakeholders involved to better resolve patient medical accounts.”
The Medical Debt Task Force sought to identify common methods for resolving the patient portion of medical bills and provide a framework for educating patients about available financial assistance programs and the account resolution process. These new best practices are intended to be voluntary guidelines and complement existing federal, state and local laws governing the recovery of patient medical debt.
Health care providers and their business partners using the best practices will be able to:
1. Lay the groundwork for successful account resolution by educating patients and following best practice for communication prior to the time of service.
2. Make bills and all communications clear, concise, correct and patient friendly.
3. Establish policies for account resolution and ensure that they are followed internally and by business affiliates.
4. Be consistent in key aspects of account resolution—from billing disputes to payment application.
5. Coordinate account resolution activities with business affiliates to avoid duplicative patient contacts.
6. Exercise good judgment about the best ways to communicate with patients and bills.
7. Start the account resolution clock when the first statement is sent to the patient.
8. Report back to the credit bureaus when and account is resolved (in the event that an account is reported to a credit bureau).
9. Track all consumer complaints.
10. Use best practices, principles, and guidelines to inform their organizational approach to medical account resolution.
“The best practices bring consistency, clarity and transparency to talking with patients about their health care costs,” said former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt. “They provide guidance for when, how and by whom communication should take place about financial issues—such as insurance coverage, financial counseling, patient financial responsibility, and any existing balance the patient may have.”
Representing ACA on the Medical Debt Task Force were Director of Federal Government Affairs Lucia Lebens, Board Member Tom Gavinski of I.C. System, Tina Hanson of State Collection Service, Eric Mock of Medical Business Bureau, and Pam Kirchner of BCA Financial Services.
The following are included among a broader list of best practices. More information on these best practices is available at http://www.hfma.org/medicaldebt.
• Improve Patient Education and Communication. Take responsibilityfor educating patients about theirpayment options and responsibilities. Be proactive about communicatingavailable financial assistance policiesand procedures. Health care providersshould educate consumers about theaccount resolution process beforeproviding a service or at the time ofservice. The discussion of optionsshould also include attempting toqualify patients for coverage by thirdparty payers.
• Make bills patient-friendly. All financial communication should be clear, concise, correct, and patient friendly. It will help patients be able to know what to do when they receive a bill and ensure that the statement correctly documents the financial aspects of their care.
• Establish policies for account resolution and ensure that they are followed. Make sure that keyaccount resolution activities aregoverned by your organization’s board approvedpolicies. Providers shouldhave a clear policy about financialassistance, including how to apply,required supporting documentation,eligibility criteria and steps theymay take to resolve accounts. Theaccount resolution policy should alsoinclude the economic profile of thecommunity and be available to allpatients.
• Report back to credit bureaus when and account is resolved. If a past-dueaccount is reported to a credit bureau,the reporting entity should report backto the bureau when the account issatisfied.
• Track all consumer complaints. This information should beshared between the businessaffiliate and the provider toimprove customer service, hastenaccount resolution, and avoidreoccurring grievances.
• Use established HFMA and ACA best practices, principles and guidelines to inform your organization’s approach to medical account resolution. Thisincludes HFMA’s BestPractices for PatientCommunications;HFMA’s PatientFriendly BillingProject; ACA’s HealthCare ServicingGuidelines andACA’s Code ofEthics.