Fifer_Joseph_webPatients deserve to be treated fairly and consistently when it comes to payment.

A lack of consistent billing and collection practices across the healthcare industry has posed challenges for patients and providers alike. A new HFMA initiative addresses this situation with a set of best practices designed to help providers and their business affiliates improve their approach to resolving medical accounts—and to produce benefits for everyone involved as a result.

To develop the best practices for medical debt, HFMA partnered with ACA International (the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) and convened a task force that includes representation from providers, account resolution groups, and credit bureaus.

Recognizing that payment challenges may start before a bill is even issued, the Medical Debt Task Force advises providers to align their procedures with HFMA's Patient Friendly Billing® work and the recently released best practices for Patient Financial Communications. Successful account resolution starts before the time of service with ensuring that discussions about financial assistance take place at the right time, patients understand their financial responsibilities, and bills are clear, concise, correct, and patient-friendly.

Educating patients about the account resolution process in this way allows individuals to better understand the process and therefore be more likely to respond in a timely manner.

The best practices also provide a framework for managing and improving the productivity of relationships with business affiliates, thereby creating an opportunity to identify and resolve revenue cycle issues to decrease days in A/R, increase collections yield, and reduce the number of dissatisfied patients through improved complaint tracking across business affiliates.

The Medical Debt Task Force makes it clear that key account resolution activities should be governed by board-approved policies and calls on providers to ensure that all account servicing parties abide by those policies. Simply put, a provider's approach to account resolution should be formally established and approved at the highest levels of the organization.

The task force also recommends other steps to ensure a fair and equitable debt collection process. These steps includes waiting for 120 days after the first bill is sent before reporting an unpaid debt to credit bureaus (if the provider chooses to report the debt), reporting back to credit bureaus when an account is resolved, and tracking consumer complaints.

In most instances, patients who don't resolve their accounts promptly are likely facing personal challenges that make it difficult to pay. The best practice recommendations help those patients know what to expect during what may be a difficult time in their lives. They ensure that patients are not bombarded by contacts from providers and account resolution firms at the same time, and they provide a blueprint for ensuring fair treatment for all.

A fair and consistent approach to patient financial interactions is important across the revenue cycle, starting with the patient's first contact with the provider and continuing through the resolution of the patient's account. These best practices around medical debt collection put another key piece of the puzzle in place.

From the President's Desk

From the President February sm

Joe Fifer expands on the ideas in his February column.

Publication Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2014