Consumerism and the patient payment transition: 2 experts discuss

It's no question that consumerism, high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts are driving sweeping changes in payment collections for the healthcare industry. However, providers are still scrambling to find solutions to optimize payment collections in a patient-friendly manner as this transition accelerates, said Stuart Hanson, senior vice president and general manager of consumer payment solutions at Change Healthcare.

At Becker's Hospital Review's 9th Annual Meeting on April 11 in Chicago, Mr. Hanson joined Jack Gehrke, head of consumer digital payments for PayFlex/Aetna consumer health solutions, to discuss the challenges in the patient payment transition and opportunities to drive efficient revenue collections.

The intended consequences of high-deductible health plans and HSA accounts were to empower the patient to take charge of their own healthcare. Further, these plans have driven this push to consumerism in healthcare. 

"The upside of consumerism is that it allowed consumers to make more informed decisions … But it has also really challenged the revenue cycle stream," said Mr. Hanson.

The reason consumerism is challenging the hospital revenue stream is because many consumers have high-deductible health plans, don't fully believe the amount they owe and have limited amounts of money in their savings accounts. This means a medical bill, especially if it’s a surprise cost, puts patients in a difficult financial situation as they may not have immediate access to the money to cover the expensive, often shocking costs of treatment.  However, it goes further than that. Consumers expect a simple billing process.

"If they are satisfied [with the billing process], they are 74 percent likely to pay in full and 90 percent likely to come back to an organization for service. If they aren’t fully satisfied only 33 percent paid the bill in full," said Mr. Hanson.

Mr. Gehrke agreed consumers want and need simple billing, arguing further that simplifying billing improves provider's bill collections too. 

"[Bill pay in healthcare] has been so complex that people throw up their hands and don't know what to do," explained Mr. Gehrke. "In addition, some patients don't promptly pay their bill because they question its accuracy."

Aetna is working to simplify this process by making consumers aware of what their financial statement says through education and training programs and integrating prompt payments into their platform with a clear description of what people owe providers. Further, Aetna is partnering with a third party finance company, Change Healthcare, to provide consumers more options to pay.

Another point the two experts agreed on was the need to be a three-way partnership between payers, providers and technology companies to discuss how to manage the patient financial experience.  

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