Last month, I wrote a blog post on why it’s imperative you don’t waive patient fees—and instead, charge and collect what your patients owe. Now, you may be saying, “easier said than done,” but it doesn’t have to be—not if you have a plan. And not just any plan: a comprehensive collections plan complete with processes and procedures to effectively collect your patient fees—all of them (including including copays, deductibles, coinsurance, and payment for non-covered services and supplies)—at the time of service.
For any of you who are asking why this is so important, it’s simple. You provide a service—one which is beneficial—and in order to stay in business and continue to provide this service, you must make money. Writing off your fees shows the world that your services aren’t worth what you say they are. Not only does it bring down the value of your practice, but it also brings down the value of the rehab therapy industry as a whole. And that’s not cool.
So here are a few steps to get you started (adapted from this APTA article):
1. Establish and enforce written collection policies. The key word here is written—write everything down and make sure you cover everything, including how your front office staff will determine fees; how your patients will acknowledge understanding of the policy and what they owe; and ways you’ll collect payment (credit card, cash, or check). To make collections easier, consider:
- Getting a credit or debit card transaction machine.
- Keeping sufficient petty cash on hand to make change for cash-paying patients.
- Depending on your location, talk with a local bank about installing an ATM in your building to encourage cash payments.
- Providing electronic bill pay directly from your website.
2. Educate and train your staff. Start by explaining the importance of establishing financial policies for the benefit of the practice—and thus your staff. And then move into the ways they can help, like discussing out-of-pocket costs with their patients while reviewing the plan of care. For the front office staff, consider developing a script. According to the APTA, many practices find they get the best response by asking, “How would you like to pay? Credit card, cash, or check?” rather than asking “Would you like to pay your copay today?”
You may also want to consider implementing an incentive program for your front office staff based on their collections. Establish goals that you can measure and they can achieve. Increasing your collections will more than cover the cost of an incentive program.
3. Tell your patients. And emphasize the facts:
- Collection at the time of service is standard business practice.
- Payment at the time of service prevents bills from accumulating and becoming overwhelming.
- Insurance companies require patients to pay copays and deductibles, and they require practices to collect them.
4. Make sure patients understand the policy.
- Post your payment policy clearly on your website.
- Display signage in your office.
- Explain the policy over the phone when a patient calls for an appointment.
- During their first visit after you implement the policy, have your patients read and sign a form acknowledging their understanding of, and agreement to, the policy.
5. Keep exceptions to a minimum. Strive for a collection rate of at least 90% at time of service.
When patients schedule appointments:
- Record their insurance information.
- Explain your collection policy.
- Remind them to bring their insurance cards, identification (e.g., driver’s license), and payment to their first visit.
When patients check in for their first appointment:
- Verify their insurance and payment information.
- Make a copy of their insurance card. Have the patient read and sign the agreement guaranteeing payment.
- Establish the method of payment.
- Give patients the option of keeping a credit or debit card number on file.
At the time of service:
- Collect the copay and other fees.
- Ask for authorization to automatically debit or charge for services that are not known at the end of the visit. You should be able to provide a verbal estimate in most cases.
Looking for a few more pointers? Here they are:
- File electronic claims within 24 hours of the visit.
- Collect past-due bills in the office. Don’t wait and send a paper statement. P
- Payment plans should be the exception and not the rule. Save them for cases of true hardship, and make sure you have specific policies and procedures governing their use.
- Include a collections balance procedure and daily batch totaling. This will ensure a check and balance between what your front office staff says they collected and what gets deposited.
And there you have it: five easy steps to ensure you’re getting paid what you deserve—what your services are worth. After all, you deserve nothing less.