Hospital billing changes to virtual visits may leave uninsured patients with bigger charges

Hospital billing policies for virtual visits are changing, and some patients without insurance could see their out-of-pocket costs increase significantly as hospitals become contractually required to charge virtual visits at rates that look more like in-person charges.

One example of the issue was reported on by WCNC Charlotte, which interviewed an uninsured North Carolina man who saw his out-of-pocket costs for virtual treatment increase. Fearing he contracted COVID-19, he visited a Novant Health clinic virtually three times in April. Based on past experience, the man thought the visits would cost him $50 each. However, the Charlotte, N.C.-based health system billed the man $500 for the three visits.

Now that video visits are covered by insurers, Novant and other hospitals nationwide are obligated to change how they bill for the procedures. In addition, the scope of video conferences has expanded to be more in line with an in-person visit.

Prior to insurance coverage, some healthcare systems absorbed the cost of virtual visits, as a flat fee of $50 would not cover the cost of providing the visit. However, as insurers nationwide began covering virtual visits, new rates were agreed upon. While upfront charges were eliminated for some insured patients, the change has led to greater costs for some uninsured patients. 

In a statement to WCNC Charlotte, a Novant Health spokesperson said: "COVID-19 has prompted a variety of policy changes by both insurance companies and government agencies, which Novant Health is contractually obligated to meet. One such change is the need to bill video visits differently. While this change was made across the board for all patients, the impact will be different as no two patients are alike. Many factors affect a patient's out-of-pocket costs for a visit or procedures — their insurance plan, deductible, copay and annual income if they don't have insurance coverage."

Novant has financial assistance programs for patients who need help paying their bills. The man WCNC Charlotte interviewed is in a payment plan for his bill.

Read the full article here

Editor's note: This article was updated June 26 at 12:08 p.m. CT.

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