HME NewsPoll: Customers have trouble paying

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

YARMOUTH, Maine - As if providers weren't already getting squeezed enough by reimbursement cuts, many report more difficulty collecting money from customers.

An overwhelming majority of providers--92%--report that their customers are having more trouble paying out-of-pocket costs this year compared to last year, according to the results of a recent HME NewsPoll. Providers are having such a hard time, that more than half of them--56%--say they've been forced to write off at least 10% more co-pays this year compared to last year.

"It is a real problem within our geographic area," said one poll respondent. "The economy is really bad. We attempt to collect the out-of-pocket, but it has been difficult."

Lincare recently stated in an earnings report that it had seen an increasing number of customers who struggled to pay out-of-pocket costs. As a result, it has increased its allowance for uncollectible accounts.

The No. 1 reason that customers can't pay, according to 70% of providers: loss of income (70%). Another reason: loss of insurance coverage, according to 10% of providers.

"I have seen more and more employer-sponsored insurance plans with over $1,000 deductibles that the patients never meet," said Cliff Doss, CEO of AireCore Medical Services.

Despite the increase in write offs, providers say that's still a last resort. First, they try a variety of tactics to collect their money.

"We try to set up an interest-free payment plan," said one poll respondent. "If they choose not to do that, we will screen them for financial hardship based on current federal and state poverty guidelines. If they qualify, there is a sliding scale of assistance we may offer them."

Other options include credit cards and payment plans of as little as $5 per month, say providers. Some take a proactive approach, collecting co-pays upfront, requiring deposits on equipment or asking for credit card numbers in advance.

"We tend to be more lenient on the front end when we explain the co-pay than when they just ignore our bills on the back end," said one poll respondent.

Many providers say once the customer has the equipment, it can be difficult to collect the money owed.

"They figure you won't take it away," said one provider.

Too bad, say others.

"We retrieve our equipment and turn them over for collection," said one provider.