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Monday, February 24, 2014

Hospitals and debt collectors begin fight against medical bill collection laws

The Affordable Care Act affects medical billing practices
By Kenneth Gray

As medical billing and payment procedures are rapidly changing to adjust for the mandates set forth by the Affordable Care Act, the ways in which medical debts can be collected.

As this shift in policy brings about changes that allow more leniency for patients dealing with medical debt, legislation requiring more allowances for the payment of bills has been passed and continues to be proposed.

In reaction to new and proposed changes, many healthcare providers and debt collection agencies are making efforts to counter the effects of new laws and regulations. Two of the largest agencies in health care and debt collection: Healthcare Financial Management Association and the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals have formed an alliance to formulate ways in which they may take action to reverse trends toward giving more leniency to patients in medical debt.

While no legal regulations seem to be proposed by the agencies, action is being taken to help allow healthcare providers to recoup more funds or to ensure that they are payed the bills they are due.

Increased payment at offices

As patients begin to be less accountable for charges they incur, a growing number of offices are requiring higher portions of payments at the time of or even before a patient’s visit. In cases where a procedure is not an emergency, many doctors and hospitals may estimate not only a patient’s co-pay, but also the actual out of pocket expenses associated with their anticipated care.

This serves the dual purposes of ensuring that funds are recouped by doctor’s offices at the same time that patients are made as aware as possible of the actual costs of the treatment and procedures they are about to receive.

Payment throughout treatment

In addition to requiring patients to pay certain fees prior to being seen, many hospitals have begun to require payment throughout the duration of a long term treatment.

This somewhat new trend has been the subject of some criticism by those who argue that bringing up financial matters may be somewhat counter to the healing process, but advocates for hospitals have argued that even if payment is not demanded during a patient’s stay, taking steps to clarify the degree to which a patient must pay for their bills out of pocket is responsible and beneficial to both the patient and the healthcare provider.

Finding solutions for all parties

The primary goal of the Affordable Care Act is to make healthcare more accessible and to reduce instances of major financial problems like bankruptcy in connection with unpaid medical bills. Lawmakers hope that expanding coverage to previously uninsured patients will help keep medical costs manageable, which will ideally result in less delinquent bills and fewer unpaid services.

This will no doubt require effort made by the patient, as well as insurance companies and hospitals to make sure that there is as much clarity as possible when it comes to the costs associated with the unavoidable and often costly expense of healthcare. With clarity and responsibility comes a better experience for all parties.

About the author: Kenneth Gray has spent decades working the field of medical billing and is always happy to answer questions about health insurance or medical bills at A-Fordable Billing Solution.

Image license: Rytyho usa, CC BY SA-3.0