Consumers are unhappy with the financial side of health care. But is enthusiasm for addressing consumer dissatisfaction fizzling out?
The federal government’s top priority should be to reduce what people pay for health care, a recent poll found. This makes sense when you consider that America spends far more for health care but lags other countries on quality. Our performance hasn’t improved since the Commonwealth Fund started researching this in 2004, yet we have increased patient responsibility significantly during this period. No wonder consumers don’t feel they’re getting good value. For finance leaders who have put consumerism issues on the back burner, this should be a wake-up call.
The long-term scenario—the shift to value—offers reason for hope, if we make some course adjustments. So far, value-based payment isn’t producing systemic cost savings. Yet two things are clear. First, we’re in for a prolonged trial-and-error period unless we focus on the real cost drivers—chronic conditions, mental health and addictions, and end-of-life care. Second, increased consumer engagement must be part of any solution. Value-based care, whatever it ends up looking like, should reduce insurance premiums, prices, and consumer financial responsibility—but increase consumer involvement.
The short-term scenario, however, is cause for concern. I have to wonder if “consumerism fatigue” is setting in. Price transparency is being written off in some quarters (prematurely, in my opinion) for failing to reduce healthcare spending. On a national level, focus on ACA repeal-and-replace has drawn attention away from consumer issues. And the number of organizations applying for recognition as Adopters of HFMA’s Patient Financial Communications Best Practices has slowed to a trickle.
It’s clear that Americans want to better manage their out-of-pocket spending. The implications for healthcare stakeholders are equally clear: Act now; don’t expect long-term market evolution to magically solve today’s consumerism issues. HFMA has been beating this drum since the Patient Friendly Billing Project was launched in 2006. We ramped up in 2014 with Healthcare Dollars & Sense. Yet today, only about 240 organizations have formally adopted the best practices for patient financial communications.
Meanwhile, attitudes have shifted. A 2017 Harris Poll found that only 36 percent of U.S. adults believe physicians “put patients over profits;” 23 percent believe hospitals do, and 16 percent feel health plans put patients first. That’s a 13 percent decline for hospitals since a similar Harris poll in 2012. (It was bad enough then, and it deteriorated from there.) For providers, the first step in regaining trust is to ensure that patients are consistently treated with respect and empathy, receive timely and accurate price information, and know their payment and financial assistance options. The best practices provide a roadmap for achieving these goals. Use it.
Follow Joe Fifer on Twitter: @HFMAFifer
From the President’s Desk
Joe Fifer expands on his ideas in his October column.