Economic downturn stalls collections...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

For many HME providers, the economic downturn has made the difficult task of collecting patient co-pays next to impossible.

With cash strapped consumers putting their medical bills on the back burner, sources say, it’s no longer enough for providers to send out monthly statements and expect to be paid.

“You have to be proactively calling the patients explaining to them why they owe what they do,” said Mike Bargmann, vice president of sales for Akron, Ohio-based Bargmann Management, which provides patient receivable management services.

To stay viable, providers must aggressively target co-pays, even as it becomes more difficult for patients to pay their bills. The 20% co-pay is going to mean the difference between providers taking a loss or turning a small profit, sources say.

Collecting co-pays may be even more important for some products than others.

“Providers have to be very cautious about which items they provide and whether it is feasible to provide them under the current situation,” said Sylvia Toscano, owner of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Professional Medical Administrators. “Some items cannot be provided under the current reimbursement without the 20% co-insurance.”

Follow-up calls to patients can improve the collection process, Bargmann said. Some patients, for example, may not realize that their deductible has increased and that as a result, they have to pay a larger portion of the bill than they did in the past.

“They think their insurance is going to pay for it so they’ll sit on it and not do anything,” he said.

Another tactic that more and more providers are employing with some success: payment plans. Setting up a four, five or six-month payment plan for patients makes good business sense, Bargmann said.

“That’s a reasonable (time),” he said. “After that, it becomes unrealistic and the longer you drag it out, the harder it is to collect.”