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Patient Financial Struggles Suggest Need for Better Payment Plans

Introducing payment plants and discussing financial responsibility could aid patients in handling medical expenses.

patient payment plans

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Over one-quarter of families are delaying medical care because of cost concerns and high patient financial responsibility, according to a recent survey conducted by ORC International on behalf of AccessOne. Payment plans and other financing options may help patients afford their care, the survey revealed.

An increasing number of patients are facing high financial responsibility, the survey authors noted. High-deductible health plans are leading more patients to foot the bill for their medical expenses, and in many cases patients are not actually able to make these payments.

Over half of the nearly 700 survey respondents said they are concerned about their ability to pay for a medical bill under $1,000. Thirty-five percent said they are concerned about paying a bill that was under $500.

Those findings are concerning, the survey authors said, considering the average medical bill is considerably more than $500 or even $1,000. Data from CMS shows that the average medical bill in 2016 was just under $10,000.

Although all patients feel the pressure of growing financial responsibility, families are especially feeling the pinch. Families with children are twice as likely to have their accounts sent to collections compared to individual healthcare consumers. One-fifth of families said they have had their accounts sent to collections.

Families are also largely avoiding their medical care because of cost concerns. Twenty-seven percent of families have declined to seek treatment because of costs.

Families are taking other actions to afford their care, the survey showed. Nineteen percent of families are putting their medical payments on credit cards because they need the full month’s billing cycle to scrape together the funds to pay off the medical service.

Thirteen percent of families have borrowed money from family or friends to afford a healthcare bill, and 21 percent simply do not pay medical bills.

Conversations with medical providers about out-of-pocket costs would greatly ease the burden of high costs, respondents said. Sixty-eight percent of surveyed patients said they wanted to talk about finances with their provider organizations before receiving treatment; only 21 percent of respondents said their providers actually do this.

Fifty-five percent of patients said they prefer to discuss finances and out-of-pocket payments before care has been delivered, perhaps opening the door for price shopping.

Challenges associated with patient financial responsibility pervade regardless of demographic, the survey revealed. For example, patients of all ages want better price transparency, with more than half of respondents in all age brackets reporting such.

Over 80 percent of Millennials said they want better price transparency. Sixty-nine percent of Gen-Xers and 56 percent of Baby Boomers said the same.

Desire for price transparency also defies income bracket. Sixty-five percent of those making between $35,000 and $50,000 want better price transparency, while 69 percent of those making over $100,000 said the same.

These issues regarding patient healthcare costs suggest a need for a new strategy, the survey administrators said.

Organizations can begin transforming the patient relationship with healthcare costs by creating standards for patient-provider communication. Specifically, organizations may consider making it protocol to discuss financial responsibility before delivering care.

Those conversations should include the total estimated price of treatment, network status, out-of-pocket responsibility after insurance, and other relevant information such as quality or satisfaction data.

Organizations may also consider implementing patient payment plans. Payment plans allow patients to tackle costs in bite-sized bits, making it easier for the patient to pay their bills over time. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they would use an interest-free payment plan for medical bills under $1,000.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said having access to an interest-free payment plan option is important for very important to them.

“The high cost of healthcare has become a mass-market problem for the American consumer,” Mark Spinner, CEO of AccessOne, said in a statement. “The fact that so many families are delaying care due to fear of affordability will have lasting negative impact on population health, total cost of care for employers and health plans, and providers financial ratios.”

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