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Collections Basics – Part 1: Know Your Payers

In a traditional healthcare setting, the revenue cycle begins with the insurance companies who pay the majority of the bill. There are multitudes of payers and each payer can have many plans.  How can a healthcare organization catalog this information, keep this information updated and make this information easily accessible to staff so they can discuss payments with patients in an informed and confident way?

Start by breaking your payers into five main categories as a logical way to organize the data.

  1. Payers with whom you have a contract
  2. Payers with whom you do not have a contract
  3. State and Federal government payers (Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare)
  4. Medicare Advantage payers
  5. Patients

Payers with whom you have a contract

Your organization has signed a contract with a payer and you have agreed to accept a discounted fee called an allowable, and to abide by their rules.  What is the information you need to collect?

  • A copy of the contract
  • A detailed fee schedule, or a basis for the fees, such as “150% of the 2008 Medicare fee schedule.”
  • Any information about the fees being increased periodically based on economic indicators, or rules (notification, timeline, appeals) on how the payer can change the fee schedule.
  • The process and a contact name for appealing incorrect payments.
  • Information on what can be collected at time of service.  Hopefully your contract does not have any language that prohibits collections at time of service, but you must know what the contract states.
  • Process for checking on patients’ eligibility and benefits: representative by phone, interactive voice response (IVR), website or third-party access.

The contract allowables should be loaded into your practice management system so you can calculate the patient’s responsibility at check-out and you can identify incorrect payments at the time of check-posting.  If your practice management system does not have this feature, you will need a cheat sheet for each contracted payer, showing the most common services, the allowables, and the percentages of the allowables for fast calculation of the patient’s portion at check-out.  The same or a modified cheat sheet will work for the check posters so they can verify the payer is reimbursing according to the contract.

Your cheat sheet should look like this:

Plan A
Service Allowable 20% 40% 50% 60% 80% 90%
99213 75.00 15.00 30.00 37.50 45.00 60.00 67.50

The check-out staff will write the patient’s portion on the encounter form (you may call it a charge ticket, fee ticket, rounding slip, or superbill), add the numbers together and give the patient the total.  Alternately, the computer system will total the patient’s portion based on the payer and the plan for the check-out person.

The balance of the information collected will be used to develop a payer matrix that might look something like this:

 

Payer

 

Employers

Collectible 

At TOS

Elig/Benefit 

Verification

Plan Year Contract 

Dates

How to Notify
XYZ WalMart Deductible & Co-Pay website July-June – Exp Dec 2013, must neg. <Aug1, 2012 Call June Jones at 1-800-555-1212
State Employees Deductible & Co-Ins. Website 

 

Jan –Dec 

 

same same

Another excellent way your organization can catalog payer and plan information is electronically in a document management system such as FileConnect, which I use and recommend.

FileConnect is an electronic filing cabinet with many great attributes, one of which is particularly helpful in this scenario. Every time there is a change in a payer contract, or a new plan is added by a local employer, you can update the staff’s spreadsheet tools simultaneously and the newest version will be instantly available on their desktops.

Payers with whom you do not have a contract

Your primary payers in your community or region will most likely offer you a contract.  Payers with less covered lives will not find it worthwhile to contract with healthcare providers, so you must decide how you will work with these companies and with these patients.

You are not required to file claims with payers that you are not contracted with.  Most healthcare providers do file claims with non-contracted payers to ensure patient satisfaction.   Where providers may differ, however, is whether or not they will ask patients with non-contracted payers to pay in full at time of service, and assign the payment to the patient OR ask the patient to pay only the expected patient portion at time of service and assign the payment to the provider.  This decision will be made as part of your Financial Policy (covered in Part 2.)

State and Federal government payers (Medicare, Medicaid, TriCare)

There has been a tremendous discussion in healthcare for the last several years about physicians limiting how many Medicare patients they will see, or even discontinuing to see Medicare patients completely.  The rate at which Medicare pays is not enough to support the provision of services in most ambulatory practices, so some physicians do not participate in the Medicare program but still see Medicare patients (the fee they can charge Medicare patients is federally controlled and is called the “limiting” charge) or have opted out of the Medicare program altogether and will see Medicare patients on a cash basis only.

If a practice does accept Medicare patients, whether participating or not, there are set amounts to be collected from patients with Medicare – deductibles and co-insurance, as well as services that are never covered by Medicare.

Make sure that current Medicare allowables for your locality are loaded into your computer to do the math for you.  You can use the same type of spreadsheet shown above to develop a cheat sheet of 80% of the Medicare allowable.

Service Medicare Allowable 20% Owed by Patient
99213 66.74 13.34

What is confusing to most providers is what an insurance that is secondary to Medicare will pay.  Many providers do not collect any fees at time of service for Medicare patients with a secondary payer, as there may or may not be any balance left that is the patient’s responsibility.

Medicaid pays less than Medicare does, and based on the very low fee schedule, many ambulatory providers will not accept Medicaid patients.  Many Medicaid patients must depend on health departments, hospital clinics, federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) for care.

Tricare may be accepted on a case-by-case basis.  A healthcare provider does not need to accept the health insurance for retired military across the board, and may decide individually whether to accept a Tricare patient or not.

Medicare Advantage

Medicare Advantage Plans, formerly called Medicare Choice + and now called Medicare replacement plans or Medicare Part C, are plans offered by non-government payers which replicate Medicare benefits for seniors, sometimes offering enhanced benefits as part of the package.  There are several types of Medicare Advantage Plans, but the main types are local or regional HMO plans which require you to sign a contract, and the Private Fee For Service Plans (PFFS), for which no contract is required.  If you see a Medicare Advantage PFFS patient, you have in essence agreed to accept their terms.  The one thing you should ask prior to accepting a Medicare Advantage PFFS plan/patient, is what percentage and what year of Medicare rates are they paying.

Patients

So we finally arrive at the payer with whom most healthcare entities have the most difficulties – the patient.  Why is it so difficult to collect from patients?

First, as we have seen throughout this article, insurance can be very confusing.  Without a plan for organizing and sharing information, a healthcare provider may have significant difficulty assessing the patient’s payment responsibility.

Second, it has been a cultural norm until recently that patients do not have to pay at time of service, with the exception of their co-pay, and will be billed for their portion after insurance pays.

We know now that we must collect the correct payment at time of service.  This is the only way to reduce the administrative expense of billing the patient for the balance and/or refunding the patient if too much has been collected.  This is also the only way to maintain adequate cash flow as much of what used to be paid to the providers from insurance companies has now become the responsibility of the patient.  Higher co-pays, higher co-insurance and most of all, extremely high deductible plans have left patients owing much more out-of-pocket and largely being unprepared to pay it at time of service.

In the next part of this series, Collections Basics Part 2: Develop Your Financial Policy, we will discuss setting up your financial policy so both patients and your staff can understand it, and how to collect from patients according to your policy.




Readers & Colleagues Comment on “101 Ideas for Increasing Revenue and Decreasing Expenses”

I invited readers of MMP, colleagues on LinkedIn, and Tweeps (friends on Twitter) to comment on my post “101 ideas for Increasing Revenue and Decreasing Expenses.” I’ve listed their ideas below and hope you’ll chime in on the comments with even more ideas!  Thanks to everyone for contributing.

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David Kirkup 

David Kirkup

Partner at B2B CFO® – Experienced CFO for Rent. Fast, Effective, Affordable.

Consider adding a part-time CFO to the mix. Many medical offices have very weak financial capability or understanding. Assistance can range from better financial reports, capital expenditure analysis, budgeting and exit plans.

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Bobby Jones

Eastern Region Sales Manager – Billing Tree

1) Build a relationship with the patient before he/she leaves the practice.
2) Make sure they know you are expecting payment on the portion they owe, and when you are expecting that payment.
3) Let them know what your process is for collecting, and when they will go to an outside agency.
4) Enable a web site to take payments 24 hours a day.
5) Set up an IVR system to take phone payments after hours.
6) Communicate your available payment acceptance methods in writing, on the phone and every time you speak with your patients.
7) Send the invoice or statement when you intend to send it.
8) Re-inforce the payment acceptance methods on the first and any subsequent invoices.
9) Adopt a plan for following up with any patients that don’t pay after 10 days.
10) Get email addresses from all of your patients and their permission to contact them in that manner.

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Sukrit Tripathy

Sr. Product/Process Trainer and EDI Implementation Consultant

One suggestion would be to integrate the revenue cycle mangement function with your clearinghouse {for electronic billing} with integrated solutions like Coding database and Updates, Industry Broadcast, Performance and Audit reports for Claim Edits, Transmission and Rejects. Also, better training resources for billing staff actively into the practice management system.

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Barbara Rotter

Consultant at Pacific Women’s Medical Group

I would add effective cash management (even if interest rates are so low).

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Michael Glass

Michael Glass

Medical and Business Consultant at Transworld Systems

Utilize a Flat Fee Collections Agency for Non-responsive Patient Pay concerns.

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Randall Shulkin

Principal Consultant – Culbert Healthcare Solutions

– Do you collect co-payments on the way in rather than on the way out?
– Does your PM/Scheduling system show the patient co-payment and outstanding patient balance in the appointment screen? If not, then can you download a listing for your front desk staff?

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Denise Price Thomas

Denise Price Thomas

DPT Healthcare Consulting & Training

I’d like to add “acknowledge the patient with eye contact” and offer “polished customer service” and they will WANT to return = return on your $ $

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Stacy Mays

Managing Partner, Dynamic Grape Companies

One other thought… don’t be afraid to try new technology. For example, one of my clients has developed a kiosk that allows patients to take their own weight and bp and electronically feeds the data into their EMR. The whole set up costs about $3500 and can save a ton of staff time. Tele-health in general should also be considered.

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Angela Short

VP at Operations

If you select a reasonably priced EMR and you implement enhancements then you more than save on staff cost. Keep in mind that my practice rolled out the EMR five years ago, so we have had time to get it right. Here are some of the savings/revenue opportunities:1. We utilize our electronic technology to send text messages and emails to our patients to remind them of their appointments. This function alone saves my practice one FTE. Not only do we save with staff time we improve patient satisfaction, as our Blackberry users loves the email or text that they can directly add to their calendars. The revenue enhancement to this function, we decrease no shows and lag time in our physician’s schedules.

2. The robust reporting within the EMR allows the organization to assemble important quality measures that we use in contract negotiations. Without the EMR this would be a labor intensive task.

3. We are able to push a secure message to our patients regarding their pathology results saving staff time on the telephone and increasing patient satisfaction by eliminating a visit just to obtain a normal result.

4. No more chasing charts for a phone message. My call center takes ALL clinical messages. This is attached to the patient’s electronic chart and routed to either a nurse to respond or a physician. This process greatly reduces staff time, decreases the time it takes to respond to the patient’s issue and provides a legal record of the telephone call which is often missed in a paper environment.

5. We receive a discount on our mal-practice insurance because in an electronic environment it is guarantee that your notes are legible.

6. The formulary function built into most EMR’s provides the physician will a real time snapshot if a prescription that he/she is about to write is covered by the patient’s health plan and provides alternatives if available.

I have just highlighted only a couple examples of the administrative benefits. There are many more. It is tough to imagine going back to a paper chart.

I have done the math and we could cover our current EMR with the incentives offered through the government initiative.

I will comment that physicians need to be trained on how to use the EMR. You can lose site of the patient and focus the entire visit on the computer versus the patient, however, we teach our physicians that the patient first and then chart completion. We conduct patient satisfaction surveys and I rarely receive a complaint regarding the physician’s time at the computer. I do however, receive praises from patients regarding the ePrescribe as it decreases their wait times when the arrive at the pharmacy, the prescription is ready.

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Okay Readers, it’s your turn – what’s your secret weapon for increasing revenue or decreasing expenses?

Mary Pat