Patient Payments Spike in June Amid Covid-19 Crisis, says Mnet Health

Total patient payments performed at a much greater rate (+1.6%) than the pre-coronavirus months of June as more patients paid in full, made larger payments and established payment plans.

ALISO VIEJO, CALIFORNIA, JULY 7, 2020 — Mnet Health (‘Mnet’), the leading end-to-end payment solutions and patient billing services provider for the surgical industry, reports that it saw an increase in total patient payment by 1.6% compared to the period prior to Covid-19.

Despite the coronavirus crisis, more patients either paid in full, made larger payments, or established payment plans:

  • Payment in full increased by 2.0%
  • Payment size increased by 3.3%
  • Payment plans established increased by 13.3%

The current pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of people’s lives and consumer spending is no exception. The way patients seek out and pay for care is changing dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lockdown measures and infection risks have restricted what consumers can spend money on. With restaurants and shops being shut and air travel being suspended, spending is generally down across many, if not all, industries.

Consumers became less inclined to spend more on non-essentials. Many expect their household income to continue to fall in the coming months as 1.5 million Americans filed new unemployment claims for the week ending June 13.

Last year, nearly one-quarter of Americans reported having unpaid or past-due medical bills. Millions are now facing some tough choices like determining which bills to pay and which to put off.  But why the increase in patient payments during the pandemic? Here’s what Mnet discovered:

More patients staying at home and easier to contact

Mnet’s patient contact percentages went up by 44.6%. Due to people staying at home more even after lockdown restrictions were eased, they were far more available and easier to be reached.

This trend is in line with patients increasingly using telehealth and online shopping. Even as local officials lift restrictions, many people are still wary and plan to wait longer before resuming their old routines.

Patients have more time to devote to resolving their balance

Oftentimes in order to resolve a balance, the patient and Mnet would need to communicate with the insurance company. This process typically takes extra time and hasn’t always been easy to accomplish with patient’s busy schedules and the limited time to make contact with insurance companies.

However, during the pandemic, Mnet’s length of time on the phone with patients increased by 5.6%. This means longer and more meaningful conversations with patients which also led to more payment in full and more payment plans established.

With the pandemic, patients have had more time to sit down and review their finances. According to the latest TransUnion Financial Hardship Report, 60% of consumers plan to reach out to the companies that manage their accounts to discuss payment plans.

Patients are concerned with keeping their account in good standing to protect their credit

Consumers are changing their behavior as they spend less on vacationing and eating out. Instead, they are using their money to pay down debt and keep their credit lines open.

A recent survey by Money Done Right and Google Consumer Surveys showed that 43 percent of Americans plan to use their stimulus money to pay off debt. The CARES Act provided stimulus checks of $1,200 to individuals with annual income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000.

A recent Harris Poll also found that nearly one-half of Americans (48%) are concerned the virus-induced recession would impact their credit score.

During these uncertain times, more patients wanted to pay in full or establish a payment plan. Patients from all financial classes expressed that they wanted to pay their provider as well as protect their credit.

Patients want to express gratitude to medical providers

Those on the frontlines in the healthcare system are working tirelessly to take care of their local community. Some healthcare workers in certain states do not even receive extra hazard or crisis pay for working during the pandemic.

Patients have made it clear that they are showing their gratitude for hard-working medical professional heroes by paying their financial responsibility in a timely fashion. Mnet has received more thanks and appreciation for the medical staff who attended them in calls with patients.

Overall, patient-pay performed at a much greater rate than the pre-coronavirus months of June. The pandemic has put the healthcare industry in the spotlight and has caused patients to rethink their financial situation in these unprecedented times.

With its mission to help patients pay, Mnet will continue to track patient payment performances closely.

How healthcare providers help patients pay during this time of crisis will have a lasting impact on their business and the communities in the future.

About Mnet Health

Mnet is a revenue cycle service & technology provider partnering with the surgical industry to provide custom patient-pay solutions to surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and management companies. As of 2020, Mnet is serving over 700 surgical facilities nationwide both directly and in support of centralized billing offices. Mnet’s brand, PaySUITE, is a platform of payment technologies that helps providers improve the patient financial experience while boosting collections performance.

We believe every patient deserves a helpful, transparent, easy to navigate financial experience in healthcare.

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Mnet Health Leads Contactless Payment Solution for the Surgical Industry

Text-to-pay experience meets consumer’s expectations for contactless payments amidst the new normal.

ALISO VIEJO, CALIFORNIA — JUNE 18, 2020 — Mnet Health, the leading end-to-end payment solutions, and patient billing services provider in the surgical industry, has announced its innovative contactless payment solution as part of its mission to help patients pay.

Contactless payment solutions like text-to-pay (SMS payments) have been on the rise even before Covid-19, but surgical facilities and patients now see them as essential. The current pandemic has spurred the demand for contactless solutions as patients worry about the health risks associated with handling cash and using shared devices like EMV terminals. Even after social distancing restrictions lift, experts predict contactless payments will be here to stay.

Consumers are now becoming increasingly wary of traditional modes of payment like swiping a credit card and using keypads or touchscreen surfaces that are being used by the public.

Many surgery centers across the U.S. have resumed elective surgeries, and the need to make their processes as contactless as possible have logically come to the fore. Contactless payments like text-to-pay can be made anytime, anywhere, and do not require a point‐of‐sale (POS) terminal.

Health risks are not the only thing that patients are worried about. The unemployment situation due to Covid-19 has also affected the finances of many patients. Thus, surgery centers need to work on ways to accommodate patients who may need more financial flexibility in the coming months.

Patients need more than just an online bill pay option. They need a variety of other financial services such as contact-free payment plans and financing. The most efficient approach for contactless payment is through SMS as 97% of Americans use their mobile phone’s texting feature at least once a day (Pew Research Center).

Mnet’s SMS platform is designed to deliver all patient financial services — everything from payment in full to pay-plans and financing all neatly offered in a text experience. Enabling text-to-pay experiences helps consumers feel in control over their finances and creates a better patient experience.

Text billing and payments are convenient and instantaneous. It’s a win-win for both surgery centers and patients. With a text billing solution, surgical facilities eliminate much of the collection process and get a more cost-effective alternative to paper billing. Providers will be able to send a secure link that allows their patients to pay, eliminating both security and contamination risks.

For patients, adopting effective, contactless billing and payment options will keep them safe, engaged, and informed. “For some time now, we’ve seen that patients are ready to take their payment options to a mobile experience. But, the Covid-19 pandemic has made doing so even more essential,” says David Hamilton, CEO of Mnet Health.

Over the years, Mnet has been known for “helping patients pay” with over $1 billion in managed patient balances.

With well over 700 surgical facilities across the U.S. using its payment solutions, Mnet has helped millions of patients pay their medical bills. Surgical facilities leverage Mnet Health’s suite of patient financial services, enabling them to treat more patients who otherwise may not have been able to afford services.

Mnet Health services many of the most recognizable and largest ambulatory surgery center chains in the country such as United Surgical Partners International and Surgical Care Affiliates.

Finding innovative ways to communicate with patients and help them pay has now become a top priority for many surgery facilities. To withstand the pandemic and ensure future growth, many providers are now making use of the latest contactless payment solutions with Mnet as their partner for success.

About Mnet Health

Mnet is a revenue cycle service & technology provider partnering with the surgical industry to provide custom patient-pay solutions to surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and management companies.  As of 2020, Mnet is serving over 700 surgical facilities nationwide both directly and in support of centralized billing offices.  Mnet’s brand, PaySUITE, is a platform of payment technologies that helps providers improve the patient financial experience while boosting collections performance.


Learn More About SMS Messaging

Download our PDF, “Why You Should Add SMS Messaging For Patient Engagement”

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3 Things for ASCs to Consider When Ramping Up Case Volumes

As the COVID-19 pandemic curve shrinks in many states, elective surgeries are also ramping up in surgery centers.  Some patients, however, might still be reluctant to go into medical facilities because of the risks of COVID-19. On the other hand, patients may be eyeing ASC’s which have largely been isolated from COVID-19 cases. 

According to a recent Spherix Global survey, specialists believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on their practices. The survey of 265 dermatologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists, neurologists and rheumatologists revealed the following:

  • Nearly 50 percent expect it will take at least 4 months for patient volumes to return to somewhat normal
  • Seventy-eight percent said the pandemic will have a lasting effect on practice operations

Many surgery administrators believe that patients will feel more comfortable coming to an ASC over a hospital, so they are preparing for an increase in cases going forward. Here are 3 essential things to consider as you ramp up your case volumes:

1. Prepare for a Surge in Demand for Elective Surgeries 

In a post-epidemic world, the new normal will see an increase of cases in an outpatient setting as patients find it a more cost effective and safer environment. Hospitals will still be dealing with COVID-19 for quite some time so ASC’s will offer an alternative for performing cases.

ASC’s typically treat healthier patients with fewer simultaneous health issues and the ASC setting is potentially safer and cleaner for patients than hospitals. Hence, surgery centers need to start preparing for the coming influx of patients demanding elective surgeries. 

Here are what some facilities are doing to prepare for increased demand: 

  • Expand block times during the week and adding weekends
  • Implement increased COVID-19 screening practices and special precautions for infection control
  • Educate patients on the inherent benefits of the outpatient space
  • Adjusting the timing of surgeries so patients are sufficiently spaced out in pre- and post-op areas 

2. COVID-19 Transforms Patient Needs and Their Ability to Pay for Healthcare

The unemployment situation due to COVID-19 certainly affected the finances of many patients. ASC’s need to work on ways to accommodate patients who may need more financial flexibility in the coming months. 

According to a recent CNBC survey of 800 people, one-fourth of Americans have either lost their job or taken a pay cut, and an additional 9 percent expect to find themselves in that same situation. That means more than 30 percent of Americans may be at risk of losing coverage under employer insurance plans. 

Some patients may delay elective surgeries indefinitely or forgo them altogether if forced to pay out-of-pocket.

Here’s what your facility could do to respond to this situation:

  • Reevaluate your uninsured discount policy, charity care, and sliding fee scale
  • Ensure all patients know of financial assistance options through better patient financial education and communication
  • Implement patient-friendly billing options
  • Partner with institutions to offer additional ways for patients to pay, including zero-interest payment plans
  • Sufficiently train staff about financial assistance policies and patient financial responsibility
  • Have Patient Financial Advocates who are ready to answer patient’s questions

3. Grappling with Staffing-Related Problems Post-Pandemic

In the wake of the healthcare crisis, several surgery centers were laying off or furloughing employees to offset financial losses from elective surgery bans. Some ASC’s were unable to guarantee unemployed workers would get their jobs back. 

However as elective surgeries have resumed, surgery centers need to ensure they are sufficiently staffed for the increased volume of patients whose elective cases were put off.

When prospective patients were at home without much to do, many were able to do more research online, look at cost estimation tools, calculate payments, etc. This resulted in increased demand for price transparency, payment plans, and other patient-friendly medical billing options. Some facilities have found that calls related to financial assistance spiked during this crisis.

Here are some things your ASC can do to offset this situation:

  • Consider utilizing remote Patient Financial Advocates and remote Call Center
  • Focus on scheduling cases while remote call center reps focus on payments
  • Utilize more of available patient billing solutions and technologies. This will enable processes to be streamlined and reduce the amount of direct patient contacts (paperless registration processes, text billing, online patient portals, integrated scheduling, and other improved billing procedures.)

 


About Mnet Health

Mnet is the leading RCM & technology provider to the surgical industry delivering white glove patient-pay solutions. Mnet specializes in surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and management companies.  As of 2020, Mnet is servicing more than 700 surgical facilities nationwide, both directly and in support of centralized billing offices.  Mnet’s patient-pay solutions significantly increase self-pay collections while creating a better financial experience for patients.

 

 


Do Your Patients Know It’s Safe to Schedule Surgery Again?

As restrictions start to lift in some states, surgeries and other procedures that were halted when the coronavirus pandemic reached the U.S. are now being resumed. As hospitals and surgery centers embrace the new normal with the risk of coronavirus omnipresent, many patients are eager to reschedule "elective" operations that were delayed because of the lockdowns.

As of May 1, approximately 20 states have resumed elective surgeries. More are planning to do so in the coming weeks. The term elective can be a bit deceiving because these procedures are medically necessary. The elective part is that surgeons and patients choose when and where they will do them.

When these elective surgeries were on hold, patients with medically necessary and painful conditions -- orthopedic, neurological, and cancer-related -- were forced to wait in pain. Now, the time has come to focus on those surgeries that are time-sensitive and can no longer wait. Imagine the life of a patient who’s been waiting for that knee or hip replacement or spine surgery.

Is It Safe?

Critics are questioning whether hospitals are too quick to allow elective procedures. Many potential patients are understandably worried about visiting hospitals due to the risk of the COVID-19 infection.

Hospitals across the US, however, have been reassuring patients that they have expanded and added safety procedures. Adding that once in an operating room, it's one of the safest places to be. Because of these added precautions, one doctor remarked that emergency departments are safer than most stores and other public areas.

What Steps Are You Taking to Keep Patients Safe?

Hospitals and surgery centers vary in their practices to protect patients and their staff. As an example, some facilities are now extending the hours of operating rooms way beyond normal and running through weekends to reduce the swelling backlog of “elective” surgeries.

You can refer to the joint statement by the American Hospital Association and many medical specialties such as the American College of Surgeons outlining a roadmap for resuming elective surgery for a list of principles and considerations for your facility.

The CMS and also the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) have released recommendations when re-opening healthcare facilities. Here are some of them:

  • Establishing Non-COVID Care (NCC) zones that would screen all patients for symptoms of COVID-19. Staff would be screened routinely as would others who would work in the facility (e.g. housekeeping, delivery, etc.)
  • Testing all elective outpatient surgical and non-urgent procedural patients for COVID-19 three days prior to their scheduled appointments
  • Ensuring more than 30 percent vacancy is available in all staffed beds and 30 percent in Intensive Care Unit beds.
  • Ensuring the hospital has more than a seven-day supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical-surgical supplies on hand.
  • Facility considerations, including social distancing in waiting areas and maintaining lower patient volumes. Following waiting room spacing guidelines, social distancing, face masking, etc.
  • Sanitation protocols, including an established plan for thorough cleansing and disinfection prior to using spaces.

How Are You Communicating With Patients?

A facility should make it clear to patients that they are not being forgotten and that your center is working on plans to get them the care that they need.

Putting in place an omnichannel communications strategy would be a key advantage when ramping up surgeries again whether it be for orthopedics, general surgery, eye surgeries, or even dental surgeries. With the use of integrated multiple communication channels, some facilities are hearing daily from patients who have had elective procedures delayed because of COVID-19.

Mnet Cares

While the patient experience begins with the facility; Mnet also continues the “patient-friendly” experience through to the point of helping patients pay for their procedures.

We’re all in this together. Mnet is deeply committed to working with hospitals and surgery centers to stabilize productivity and keep patient communications open and available. We understand the drastic situation facing the industry – and we’re here to help.

Has the time come for you to resume elective surgeries? If yes, then you will need to focus on cases as soon as possible.

Having a partner that focuses on patient payments can free up staff to focus on building case volume.  We can help you:

  • Open your doors sooner with an already fully functioning patient pay department
  • Focus on scheduling cases while our remote call center reps focus on payments
  • Maintain extended business office hours going forward
  • Avoid out-of-pocket expenses for as long as possible with performance-based fees

Call 866.648.4677 or email contact@mnethealth.com today to see how Mnet Health is helping patients pay.


Improving Patient Communication for Better Healthcare

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, it has had a negative effect on our health, well-being, and the economy. Not only that, but it has also accelerated a transformation in virtually every industry from education to the world of healthcare.

The last few weeks have shown that we can change, and we can do it quickly. If businesses were able to move hundreds of thousands of employees from offices to work from home, then surely the healthcare industry can figure out how best to communicate with patients.

As the pandemic hastens the digitalization of work in every sector, now is the time to ask and listen to what patients want, and then find a way to give it to them.

Patients are confused and want to go digital

According to InstaMed's Trends in Healthcare Payments Ninth Annual Report: 2018, healthcare’s number one blind spot is the consumer experience. The data from their report reveals a lot of what the current experience is:

  • 70% of patients are confused by medical bills
  • 71% of patients are confused by Explanation of Benefits (EOBs)

Though we are now living in a digital age, much of healthcare’s communications to consumers are still only available via paper. This disconnect is most prevalent in statements to consumers, that is through mailed paper statements - the same method used half a century ago. Even the content and layout of those statements have not changed much. According to the same report:

  • 90% of providers leverage paper and manual processes for collection
  • 41% of providers haven't changed their patient statement in more than five years
  • Only 17% of patients receive medical bills electronically

This is in sharp contrast to what patients actually want:

  • 71% of patients want e-Statements from their providers
  • 81% of patients want an online estimation tool for provider visits
  • 86% of patients want to make all their healthcare payments in one place (online portals)

Much of the patient confusion comes from a general lack of communication between healthcare providers and patients. While patients want to talk about money for their healthcare, they are not usually aware of their responsibility until much later in their healthcare journey.

As other industries set higher standards for consumer expectations, the healthcare industry has a lot to catch up in making that digital connection with patients in terms of communication.

Consumers (aka patients in healthcare) have many choices on how they communicate

Today, consumers have tons of choices as to how they communicate with people and companies. These communication channels include mail, email, text messaging, website, phone, social media (Twitter, Instagram, Messenger, Snapchat, etc.), messaging apps like WhatsApp, and more. Consumers also want to be able to interact via the channels they prefer, whenever they choose — and that can change from time to time-based on their situation, changes in the communications marketplace and personal needs at any given time.

Adopting an omnichannel approach to patient communication with Mnet Health

Mnet can address the concerns mentioned through its omnichannel approach. With the use of technology, Mnet makes it easy for patients to select all the ways we can contact them. With an omnichannel approach, we can give patients consistent interactions among all channels and create a seamless experience personalized to every patient. All our communication methods are available to patients and are inter-connected.

The main difference between multi-channel and the omnichannel approach is the coordination and integration between channels.


Looking towards the future, healthcare organizations will increasingly establish their competitive advantage based on their ability to provide exceptional customer experiences. Those which can create an integrated, seamless and personalized experience to their patients will be poised to win patient loyalty

 


Medical Practice Reopening: Three Tips to Help the Process While Keeping Costs Down

With stay at home orders expiring and governors choosing to partially open their states, medical practices and the surgical industry will be back up and running very soon.  Georgia has already opened their state as of April 24. Some states, including Texas and Indiana, have quarantine orders that expire on April 30. For other States, like hard-hit New York, the current date for reopening appears to be May 15th.

A comprehensive list of state reopening dates can be found at (https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/493717-heres-when-all-50-states-plan-to-reopen-after-coronavirus-restrictions). So, clearly then, the good news is that it appears that for most states, we are just days away from reopening; rather than weeks or even months.  But, for some centers, getting back to the business of caring for people will bring a new set of challenges.

Here are three scenarios many centers are likely to face and some ideas to help overcome them:

  1. Rehiring/Recalling Staff: Some centers may have difficulties in bringing back the entire staff due to lost revenue or other new challenges.

Recommendation: Bring back as much staff as possible to get cases in the door and outsource business office functions until cashflow resumes.

  1. Reestablishing Patient Communications: If your center has been closed or had limited hours, make sure your patients know you are open for business again.

Recommendation: While preparing for cases, use on-hand staff to schedule and make use of remote call center representatives to restart your revenue stream by calling on patient balances.

  1. Staying Compliant: Remote workers have been a primary target for hackers. Be conscious of the very real threat and don’t leave gaps in your compliance measures when going through the process of reopening your practice-this could cost you and your patients.

Recommendation: Be certain that vendors calling your patients have secure access to your patient accounting system and security measures to both assist your patients and protect your business.

Has the time come for you to open practice doors again? Mnet can help you open sooner with less staff so you can start up vital revenue streams again. Mnet is patient-friendly and charges no upfront fees; so, call Mnet today to discuss strategies to help patients pay.


Surgical Industry – Steps You’ll Want to Take Now for When the Doors Open Again

For good reason, COVID-19 has forced most of the surgical industry into emergency mode with facilities seeing reduced hours or temporary closings altogether.  The last few weeks have rightly been a time of reaction but what happens when centers and hospitals resume business as usual and it’s time to “act” again?

At this point, there is no crystal ball to tell when the world will be back to work but putting an industry, and country, back in motion will obviously take a lot of time and effort.  Waiting to do this all at once would likely tax your staff, your patients, and stretch finances even further.

There are resources available that may help you continue to react practically now while also preparing to move quickly when the doors are again open for business.

Surgical facilities need to account for the following:

  • Is your facility closed or working limited hours with limited staff?
  • Is someone answering patient calls and helping maintain vital incoming revenue?
  • If remote, is your team able to efficiently maintain compliance standards?
  • Are you protecting your patient relationships?

Some centers are managing to tackle all the above items.  Others have struggled due to limited staff, technology hurdles, and communication concerns.

Fortunately, the same “short term” solution today can also make getting back to work easier when the time comes.  Consider a remote call center solution.

Help now

  • Keep the business office open for the duration and provide night & weekend availability.
  • Comfort patients who are still receiving statements with a live, knowledgeable rep who can answer questions and take payments.
  • Remote call center service providers have had to account for compliance and technology requirements long before the entire nation did overnight.
  • Maintain payment arrangements: Don’t let a balance and a lack of communication keep a patient from ever coming back.
  • Contingency based price structure ensures no additional cost.

Help when the doors open and beyond

When we do resume business again, centers will need to focus on cases as soon as possible.  At the same time, having a focus on patient payments can free up limited staff to keep building case volume.

  • Open your doors sooner with an already fully functioning patient pay department
  • Centers reopening can focus on scheduling cases while remote call center reps focus on payments
  • Maintain extended business office hours going forward
  • Stretch start-up dollars: Avoid out-of-pocket expenses for as long as possible with performance-based fees

If your doors are closed and you want to look at options for both the now and what comes next, we can help. Call 866.648.4677 today to see how Mnet Health is helping patients pay.

 


Mnet Health Provides Immediate Remote Patient Financial Advocates for Surgical Industry

Mnet Health announced today their commitment to helping the medical community stabilize productivity and keep the lines of communication between medical facility and patient open through their remote Patient Financial Advocates and their Remote Call Center.

Considering the current Coronavirus pandemic, Mnet Health has acted to ensure its deep commitment to the medical community in their efforts to stabilize productivity and keep patient communications open and available. Due to a long-standing relationship with the industry, Mnet Health understands the drastic situation that healthcare facilities are facing at this moment and is offering its assistance.

Mnet Health is ready, willing and able to field inbound patient payment calls, even on a temporary basis, using its Remote Call Center technology and Patient Financial Advocates. Mnet has tailored its remote assistance to be a seamless transition for a facility with limited commitment.

The main goal is to help loyal clients and to preserve the integrity of the surgical industry. “This is no time for providers to let their patients go to voicemail," says David Hamilton, CEO of Mnet Health. "Patients need to be reassured that they’re not going to be sent to collections and that providers are going to work with them.”

How the Remote Call Center Works

Mnet Patient Financial Advocates remotely access the facility’s patient accounting system while the facility forwards inbound patient balance calls to Mnet’s remote call center. Some of the features of the Mnet Health Remote Call Center include having dedicated teams of Patient Financial Advocates for each facility.

These Patient Financial Advocates are all based in the United States and are multilingual. Call transfers are handled seamlessly, and patients are greeted by and IVR which also provides patients with abilities to self-service if that is their preference. Support for the Remote Call Center is open from 8 am to 8 pm CST as well as weekends with an average hold time of just nine seconds.

Patients are assisted by highly knowledgeable and well-trained Patient Financial Advocates. They are ready to answer any billing questions that might come up. They are ready to offer payment or pay-plan options including the ability to transact CareCredit as a method of payment.

Finally, Patient Financial Advocates are available to help patients through the application process. They are also ready to help patients with practical suggestions during the crisis such as how to apply for unemployment, where to go to find assistance and much more. “If patients don’t get answers from a helpful person, they are likely to read articles on the Internet they don't understand and that frightens them," says Lauren Illescas, Mnet VP of Operations. "They worry about their credit, and assume the worst; so this is a time to be more available. When you are, you build patient loyalty.”

About Mnet Health

Mnet is a revenue cycle service & technology provider partnering with the surgical industry to provide custom patient-pay solutions to surgical hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, and management companies.  As of 2020, Mnet is serving over 700 surgical facilities nationwide both directly and in support of centralized billing offices.  Mnet’s brand, PaySUITE, is a platform of payment technologies that helps providers improve the patient financial experience while boosting collections performance.

View this press release on PRWeb: Click here

 


Coronavirus Sets the Stage for Hack Attack

The Coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the world; in its impact on the daily lives of billions across the globe; the ways people are able to socialize in a world of social distancing; the health and healthcare of everyone across the planet; and even the giant impact for the global economy.  But another threat looms; as these changes we are now seeing globally have fostered an environment in which scam artists, spammers, and hackers have free rein.

Phishing scams pertaining to coronavirus started making the rounds in January and have only grown since by playing on the fear of a deadly new plague.  One hospital in the Czech Republic had a ransomware attack recently that not only disrupted the day to day of the hospital but even resulted in the postponements of necessary surgeries.  Even more sophisticated hackers have been using the pandemic to trick the unwary into spreading their nasty malware.  All of this, because the world situation has left many open to all kinds of cyberattacks.

With more people working from home than ever before, there are more dangers because there are much fewer defenses on home networks than one would have in their corporate offices.  Even in situations where small crews are still working out of offices, distractions can come up, leaving vulnerable periods during such times of distractedness or even in periods of anxiety; and the most seasoned professionals can fall for malicious attacks.

Attacks like the one on the hospital in the Czech Republic pose a clear threat to the health of patients at that specific hospital but also appear to be even more reprehensible in a time of a health crisis that is currently testing the boundaries of the worldwide healthcare system.  Phishing and scamming websites are now appearing all over the Internet with reports of up to thousands of new domains being listed each day.

Even the intelligence agencies of other nations are poised to take advantage of the current global situation.  With everything going on, it’s easy to be distracted and this sense of distraction on a global scale has created a window for such attacks to be a bit more aggressive than they would have been in the past; so it stands to reason that the unscrupulous would take advantage of such an environment.

Though the Internet was built with the capacity to withstand tragic events, the current pandemic situation takes things much farther than the planning of most organizations.  In fact, the pandemic has the capability of exposing governments to attacks as they focus their resources on the outbreak and direct much of their own staff to work from home.  Many governments are turning to services that they normally would not rely on to handle their communication.  Such communication methods may not be insecure, but there is no doubt that reliance on them could have unintended consequences.


How Hospitals and ASCs Are Affected During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The global pandemic known as COVID-19 has already affected over 280,000 people worldwide. As of March 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 15,219 cases and 201 deaths in 54 jurisdictions in the United States due to COVID-19.

In a New York Times article, researchers from Columbia University estimate that the coronavirus has infected far more people in the United States than testing has shown so far. They have given a stark warning: Some 650,000 people might become infected in the next two months even if the country cut its rate of transmission in half.

As coronavirus continues its spread across the US, hospitals, and health systems are bracing for the influx of patients with COVID-19. Healthcare providers nationwide are now making adjustments and new protocols to ensure patient safety.

Here’s how the situation is affecting hospitals and surgery centers across the US:

  1. Non-essential elective surgeries and other procedures (including dental) are being postponed

The CDC has given healthcare facilities and clinicians some directives in order to preserve staff, personal protective equipment (PPE), and patient care supplies:

  • Delay all elective ambulatory provider visits
  • Reschedule elective and non-urgent admissions
  • Delay inpatient and outpatient elective surgical and procedural cases
  • Postpone routine dental and eye care visits

Following the actions above can also help ensure staff and patient safety, and expand available hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also released its recommendations Wednesday night March 18, 2020, to limit all non-essential planned surgeries and procedures, including dental, until further notice. CMS recommends low to intermediate acuity surgery to be postponed if possible, this includes cataracts, elective angioplasty, colonoscopy, low-risk cancer, etc.

The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) has also asked surgery centers to postpone elective surgeries for six to eight weeks unless the delay will significantly compromise patient safety.

Some hospitals in the U.S. are already canceling or postponing elective medical appointments and procedures as they prepare for the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 patients:

  • UCSF Health hospital system in San Francisco is postponing up to 7,000 appointments a day.
  • Seattle-based Proliance Surgeons canceled elective procedures at its 90 clinical care centers and 20 ASCs on March 17. The practice has made its ASCs available to local hospitals for elective procedures to free up capacity at the hospitals.
  1. Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) and other outpatient care facilities will play a key role 

As hospitals brace for an influx of patients with COVID-19, ASCs and other outpatient care facilities are taking on urgent cases to provide patients with much-needed inpatient care.

Hospitals are already delaying or canceling elective procedures to create capacity for those impacted by the novel coronavirus. When rescheduling is not an option, the CDC is recommending that hospitals shift urgent inpatient care to the outpatient setting.

There are 5,800 ASCs across the United States. These facilities can provide additional space, personnel, and equipment to help expand surge capacity and provider care services by expanding outpatient care for urgent elective procedures.

According to the Denver Post, Kaiser-Permanente is looking into using ASCs and critical-care hospitals to add beds for patients for the surge of COVID-19 patients in Colorado.

A special report by MSNBC's "Morning Joe" mentioned how ASCs can play a key role in combating COVID-19:

  • Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers can move additional elective procedures to ASCs. If the payers allow these surgeries to migrate to the ASC setting, it'll free up additional beds in hospitals to handle the coronavirus cases.
  • Up to 1,000 elective procedures can be authorized to be performed in an ASC setting.
  • ASCs could also be turned into triage stations if the situation calls for it.
  • ASCs also have equipment that could help alleviate concerns (e.g anesthesia machines in ASCs could act as long-term respirators once modified)
  1. While other ASCs are opening their doors, some are closing theirs

Surgery centers nationwide are closing or restricting access across because of the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Waverly Lake Surgery Center in Albany, Oregon, closed last week after a staff member may have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Tri-County Center for Endoscopy in Clinton Township, Michigan has closed proactively due to COVID-19.
  • The Riverside Surgery Center of Rutherford (N.J.) is open for urgent surgeries only and has reduced staff.

Several ASCs have already canceled or postponed procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ASCA recommends that ASCs shut down based on any of these conditions:

  • If a patient, employee or physician that has been in the center has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Or if there is a significant shortage of masks, gowns, gloves or other PPE in the area.

At the same time, patients are also canceling or deferring procedures in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey by investment bank Jefferies. As the coronavirus is increasingly altering American life, almost a quarter of doctors surveyed said patients are canceling elective procedures because of the outbreak.


3 ASC Revenue Cycle Improvements for Financial Success

Every year new procedures and technological advancements in healthcare are coming into the realm of ambulatory surgery centers (ASC’s). Some of the factors that are driving this shift to ASC setting include cost reduction, better safety and patient outcomes, technological advancement, as well as an aging population.

With the increase in technology also comes a significant cost reduction of a certain procedure. This makes surgery centers more cost-efficient for payers and cost-attractive to patients as it offers them options that fit within their budgets.

The challenge now for ASC’s is to secure their bottom line as they come up with growth in the healthcare space. Here are tips that should be considered to improve your ASC’s revenue cycle:

Improve Claims Denial Management by Adopting Proactive Strategies

Being proactive means evaluating your center’s practices ahead of time-based on the available data and identifying the risks present in your revenue cycle. Think of it as preventive care for your revenue cycle.

In denials management, most teams just focus their efforts on revenue recovery. To be proactive, you need to prevent denials in the first place. Preventing denials is always better for your bottom line than recovering them.

For example, your surgery center needs to have visibility into how many coded claims are denied and the financial impact those denials have on your organization. The need to accurately capture and record care is critical to ensuring complete reimbursement, but a large proportion of organizations are currently struggling in this area.

Improve Patient Engagement and Financial Communication

Patients are frequently asked or made to decide between having their procedure done in a hospital or surgery center. Most of the time, physicians provide no explanation of what that means. This means some patient engagement and education need to take place even at the physician’s office.

There’s also a big opportunity for ASC’s to educate patients and build their patient base by increasing digital presence through a website or social media outreach to partnering with medical device companies to do patient outreach.

Patients need to be educated about the pros and cons of each facility (whether surgery center or hospital), the track record of the facility with the procedure, the patient’s financial responsibility, etc.

Not all patients understand their insurance plan, their insurance coverage, and what their portion will be. Hence, patients also need someone to talk through about how everything works from a financial perspective. Having patient financial advocates and implementing early financial communication to patients will make for a better experience and help ensure that your ASC will get paid.

Improve Early Detection and Prevention of Revenue Leakage

Undetected revenue leaks can hurt your surgery center’s profitability and cash flow. In 2013, McKinsey & Company reported that revenue cycle inefficiencies consume 15 cents of every healthcare dollar – $400 billion out of the $2.7 trillion spent on healthcare annually in America.

Many providers typically do not receive full reimbursement because patient collections are leaking throughout their revenue cycle. Some do not even detect the source or depth of their revenue loss.

It pays to know how much revenue you’re truly missing out on and where they are coming from. Leakage could come from coding errors, manual payment and collection processes, unbilled revenue, and poor denials management.

It is important to conduct thorough audits that can find even fewer common areas where revenue leakage can occur. For example, unbilled insurance can lead to lost revenue. To solve this problem, your facility needs to create reports that track unbilled insurance. In the same way, you can also have a report that tracks unbilled patients, including self-pay, promissory notes and patient balances after third-party payor responsibility is met.

It’s essential that every procedure performed in the practice becomes a claim in the billing process. One medical billing expert notes that a facility could easily be losing 10% or more of its revenue if it fails to track interpretation reports and fails to have checks and balances in place to make sure every service provided is being billed.


Strategies on How Providers Can Reduce Bad Debt in 2020

Hospitals today are struggling with increasing bad debt. They are struggling to collect payment from uninsured people, and with the rise of high deductible health plans, they are also being snubbed by insured patients who can't or won't pay skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs.

Bad debt refers to patient debt that is considered unrecoverable. Providers may report bad debt when unemployment or bankruptcy prevents patient payment, according to a new accounting standard that changed the definition of bad debt in 2018 — called the Revenue from Contracts with Customers (or Topic 606).

In 2018, 11-hospital Piedmont Healthcare had $250.7 million in bad-debt expense (about 8% of its $3 billion revenue that year — up from 6.5% of revenue in 2017). According to the American Hospital Directory, the national average for bad debt expense as a percentage of revenue for US acute care hospitals in 2018 was 1.73%.

A survey of 100 hospital executives conducted by Sage Growth Partners in 2018 revealed the following:

  • 36 percent of executives reported their health systems face more than $10 million in bad debt
  • 6 percent reported bad debt of over $50 million
  • About half of these executives indicated their hospitals could recover more than 10 percent of what they’re owed

As of 2018 data, hospitals have provided $41.3 billion in uncompensated care (i.e. care for which no payment was received from the patient or insurer). Uncompensated care is the sum of a hospital's bad debt and the financial assistance it provides (charity care).

According to a study from TransUnion, more than two-thirds of patients are also not paying their entire hospital bills, and that number could increase to 95 percent by 2020.

Reducing bad debt continues to be an uphill battle that hospitals face. Hospitals have employed a variety of strategies to address this concern, including point-of-service collections (with some hospitals requiring 25% upfront payment). Other strategies include providing enhanced technology for better cost estimates and offering low-cost financing or payment plans.

Patient Financial Education

A common feature among the different strategies is educating patients about their financial responsibility. Providers can give their patients a huge amount of support just by educating them about the portion of their medical bill that is their responsibility and taking into account the specifics of their insurance plan (what is and is not covered by their health insurance). Also, letting patients know which providers, services, and facilities are in their insurance network.

Providers should seize the opportunity to educate patients in the pre-registration process, informing patients of their responsibility. By engaging patients early in the process, hospitals avoid potential miscommunications regarding scheduling, collections, bad debt, and ultimately payment. A patient who knows what they are paying and why will have a better experience.

Sufficiently Identify Charity Care and Potential for Bad Debt Up Front

Healthcare providers often have difficulty in distinguishing bad debt from charity care. If hospitals identify patients who are eligible for charity care early in the process, hospitals can spend less time pursuing bad debt and more time focusing on high-level concerns.

With 501(r), non-profit hospitals are required to make “reasonable” efforts to determine whether or not a patient is eligible for charity care before engaging in “extraordinary collections” against the individual. Failure to fully adhere to the 501(r) requirements can result in the hospital losing tax-exempt status.

Depending on a variety of factors, including whether a patient completes an application for financial assistance, care may be classified as either financial assistance or bad debt. Even when hospitals have streamlined documentation requirements for charity care eligibility process, patients fail to fill them out.

Here are some reasons:

  • There may be language barrier problems
  • Some patients are just plain embarrassed and don’t apply
  • Some patients think charity care doesn’t apply to them
  • Some patients are unaware such an option exists

The challenge lies in finding out who qualifies for charity care within the steady flow of patient accounts (hundreds or thousands of new accounts every day). It is estimated that about 20% to 30% of bad debt could have been handled by diverting to charity care or other payers (e.g. Medicaid, marketplace exchanges, disability insurance, third-party payers, etc.), offering patient discounts, charging to available credit balances or offering extended payment arrangements, nonrecourse loans or other financial options.

Here are other points to consider:

  • Providers need to proactively keep charity out of bad debt.
  • Put in place processes to identify who can and cannot afford to pay in order to anticipate whether the patient’s care needs to be funded through an alternative source.
  • Providers should also continue efforts to identify patients who are unable to pay during the billing and collection process.

Leverage Data Analytics

Many hospitals are turning to predictive analytics to make valid assumptions about who is likely to be eligible for charity care. By using third-party data, hospitals can also identify which self-pay accounts can be pursued for collections and which accounts are presumptively eligible for charity care.

Leveraging data analytics can also enable a hospital’s financial counselors to provide consistent (unbiased) and efficient methods for identifying which patients are eligible for financial assistance.

Using data analytics allows hospitals to accelerate the segmentation of aged self-pay accounts into different buckets: for payment, for charity, and for bad debt. By segmenting patients into the "charity bucket" even as early as pre-service, hospitals can cut down on bad debt and facilitate reimbursements for greater cash flow.


Keeping Up With Trends and Challenges Facing Nonprofit Hospitals

According to the American Hospital Association or AHA, 79 percent of the 4840 U.S. community hospitals today are nonprofit (59 percent are private nonprofit and 20 percent are operated by state and local governments). This means that these nonprofit hospitals may qualify for favored tax treatment under federal—as well as a variety of state and local income, property, and sales—tax laws.

In addition to tax exemptions, nonprofit status allows hospitals to benefit from tax-exempt bond financing and to receive charitable contributions that are tax-deductible to donors.

A study released in 2016 by Health Affairs revealed that 7 of the 10 most-profitable hospitals in the US are nonprofit hospitals, each earning more than $160 million from patient care services. However, current trends such as lower reimbursement rates, shift to outpatient care, growing merger and acquisition activity, and rising ambulatory competition has transformed the healthcare landscape.

For two straight years, expenses have surpassed revenues for nonprofit and public hospitals, creating instability and further pressuring hospital margins, according to the fiscal 2017 sector medians from Moody's Investors Service.

Yet there seems to be hope as falling margins have reversed course in 2019 according to Fitch Ratings, with median margins improving over 10% compared to last year. Although this would appear to be light at the end of the tunnel, the challenges facing hospitals will still likely continue in the future.

For example, hospitals across the board (whether for-profit or nonprofit) may find patients increasingly seeking financial assistance as patient financial responsibility increased 12 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to TransUnion. The popularity of high-deductible health plans and greater cost-sharing arrangements with health plans is adding more fuel to this trend as patients are forced to pay more out-of-pocket costs.

Keeping Tax-Exempt Status: 501(r) Compliance

With the IRS policing compliance with Section 501(r) of the Internal Revenue Code, nonprofit hospitals need to do more than ever to keep their tax-exempt status.

In 2017, the hospital industry took notice when for the first time, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked a hospital’s tax-exempt status because the hospital failed to perform a community health needs assessment (CHNA), adopt an implementation strategy and make it broadly available to the public.

There are four specific areas that nonprofit hospitals have to address to keep their tax-exempt status:

  • Establishing a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA)
  • Establishing financial assistance policy (FAP) and emergency care policy
  • Limiting the amounts charged to FAP-eligible individuals
  • Making reasonable efforts to determine eligibility for assistance prior to engaging in extraordinary collection actions

There are some common issues regarding 501(r) compliance which hospitals need to look out for since they may trigger the IRS to do a full review, impose fines, or worse even revoke tax-exempt status:

  • The CHNA is not updated or comprehensive enough
  • The hospital fails to adopt an implementation strategy
  • There is inconsistent or selective application of the hospital’s FAP
  • The plain language summary or PLS is not readily available or in appropriate languages

Ensuring compliance with the policies in different situations within a complex industry like healthcare is quite a big challenge. It would be helpful for nonprofit hospitals to appoint key individuals who will be responsible for monitoring compliance with Section 501(r) in the long-term.

Revenue Cycle Concerns

Nonprofit hospitals face the same pressures as for-profit hospitals, with shrinking volumes, smaller federal reimbursements and rising costs. One of the key areas most impacted by the 501(r) requirements will be your hospital’s revenue cycle management. At the core of these requirements is the patient’s financial health.

For example, the hospital facility needs to make sure the patient has an opportunity to apply for financial assistance for several months after discharge. When a patient is FAP-eligible, the hospital also needs to make sure they aren't overbilled and that the bill complies with the limitations on charges requirement.

In most cases, a hospital may not know on admission if the patient qualifies for financial assistance. Hence, a hospital facility may presumptively determine an individual’s FAP-eligibility based on information other than that provided by the individual or based on a prior FAP-eligibility determination.

However, hospitals still need to perform reasonable efforts to determine FAP-eligibility even when doing a presumptive determination that an individual is eligible for less than the most generous assistance available under a FAP. This can be done by:

  1. Notifying the individual regarding the basis for the presumptive FAP-eligibility determination and how to apply for more generous assistance available under the FAP
  2. Giving the individual reasonable time to apply for more generous assistance before initiating any extraordinary collection actions to the discounted amount owed for the care
  3. Processing any complete FAP application the individual submits by the end of the application period or, if later, by the end of the reasonable time period given to apply for more generous assistance

In addition, hospitals can also leverage data to identify which self-pay accounts can be pursued for collections and which accounts are presumptively eligible for charity care.


Mnet Health on Best Practices to Ensure 501(r) Compliance

There is a slew of regulations that impact hospital revenue cycle and the IRS 501(r) is one of them. For 501(c)(3) nonprofit hospital organizations, they need to comply or possibly lose tax-exempt status. In addition, a hospital could be imposed with a $50,000 excise tax for violations of Section 501(r)(3) CHNA requirements.

Hospital organizations must meet the requirements imposed by Section 501(r) on a facility-by-facility basis in order to be treated as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3). To comply, hospitals need to meet 4 requirements:

  1. Conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and adopt an implementation strategy at least once every three years – IRC §501(r)(3)
  2. Establish written and widely publicized financial assistance policy (FAP) as well as emergency medical care policy – IRC §501(r)(4)
  3. Limit the amount charged for emergency or other medically necessary care to individuals who fall under the hospital’s financial assistance policy – IRC §501(r)(5)
  4. Make reasonable efforts to determine whether an individual is eligible for assistance under the hospital’s financial assistance policy before engaging in extraordinary collection actions against the individual – IRC §501(r)(6)

Best Practices and Things to Watch Out For

Strategic Communication Initiatives

All four elements mentioned have implications with strategic communication initiatives that prioritize charity patients and vulnerable uninsured populations. A facility should ensure that the required signage regarding the availability of financial assistance is conspicuously posted in various areas throughout the facility.

Leveraging Data 

The use of data can help in quickly determining if a patient is eligible for charity care or other financial assistance. It can also identify which self-pay accounts can be segmented for payments and collections and which can be qualified for charity care.

Your facility should leverage its own data or third-party data that can help streamline eligibility. Data sources could come from public records and credit-based data from credit reports. Remember that thin files or no-hit credit files are common for charity-eligible patients. You might need to get data from multiple sources and employ a cascading approach so that all patients can be scored and categorized into various payment and charity buckets.

CHNA and Implementation Strategy

The IRS often requests both the most recent and previously conducted CHNA, as well as the corresponding implementation strategies. If these documents are not readily available in a hospital’s website, the IRS will likely do a full compliance check. Here are more helpful tips:

  • The CHNA should be current and compliant
  • Every hospital facility must have its two most recently conducted CHNA’s widely available on their website
  • There should be a written implementation strategy in tandem with the CHNA
  • Two of the most recent implementation strategies should also be widely available on the hospital’s website
  • There should be evidence of adoption of these documents by the organization within meeting minutes of the board of directors

Financial Assistance Policy (FAP) and Emergency Medical Care Policy

Your facility should ensure that all required documents (Financial Assistance Policy, Plain Language Summary, and Financial Assistance Application) are widely available on the hospital’s website and translated into any required Limited English Proficiency languages.

One important thing to note is the FAP must include the following:

  • eligibility criteria for financial assistance for uninsured and underinsured patients
  • methods for applying financial insurance
  • calculating amounts for charity care discounting
  • actions hospitals can take for non-payment.

Here are more helpful tips:

  • Be familiar with specific rules outlined in IRS Notice 2015-46.
  • The hospital’s FAP should be widely available—on a website, upon request for free and conspicuously displayed throughout your facility.
  • The FAP should be readily available in paper form throughout your hospital facility, including admissions and the emergency department.
  • The FAP conspicuously posted on the hospital’s website in plain language.
  • The FAP should be available in alternate languages (if there is a significant portion of the hospital’s community that speaks a language other than English).

Limitation on Charges

Your facility should be able to explain the basis for calculating the amounts charged to patients, “Amounts Generally Billed (AGB)” methodology and calculation. The hospital must either include the percentage and show the calculation in the FAP or describe in the FAP how that percentage and calculation can be accessed.

Billing and Collection Policy

Many hospitals find it helpful to combine the FAP and Billing & Collection Policy. The Billing & Collection Policy must explicitly state the actions the hospital may take in the event of non-payment. The FAP must also explain how members of the general public may readily obtain a free copy of that Policy.


3 Challenges Facing ASC’s and Tips to Overcome Them

With patients having more financial responsibility for their healthcare, outpatient settings like surgery centers are becoming more attractive to patients. In general, surgical procedures at ASC’s are 35% to 50% lower than hospitals.

Research from Bain & Co. estimates that the number of procedures taking place in outpatient surgery centers will rise from 23 million in 2018 to 27 million in 2021. ASC’s performed more than half of all outpatient surgeries in 2017 (up from 32% in 2005) and this trend is set to increase in the coming years. This steady growth for ASC’s presents new opportunities but also new challenges.

The major challenges include:

Rising patient costs (even in outpatient settings)

Aside from patients taking on more financial responsibility with high-deductible health plans, healthcare costs are also rising even in outpatient settings. According to a TransUnion study, patients' out-of-pocket costs averaged $1,109 for an outpatient visit in 2018 (up 12% compared with $990 in 2017). A survey by The Commonwealth Fund found that 79 million Americans have problems with medical bills or debt.

Non-payment of services

According to a TransUnion Health study in 2016, 68 percent of patients with up to $500 in medical bills didn't pay off the full balance, a 19 percentage point increase from 2014. The main reasons are higher deductibles and the increase in patient responsibility from 10% percent to 30 percent over the last few years.

Slower patient collection times and higher A/R days

A Crowe Horwath study revealed that collection rates for patient accounts with balances greater than $5,000 were four times lower than those with low-deductible health plans. The same study also revealed that the outpatient payment rate for self-pay after insurance patients was just 23.7 percent on accounts with balances between $1 and $5,000. However, the outpatient payment rate declined to just 4.7 percent among patients who owed more than $5,000 but less than $7,500. Therefore, the average self-payment payment rate for patients who had out-pocket-costs for outpatient services was 18.2 percent.

With the challenges mentioned above, how would your ASC respond? Here are 3 tips for ASC’s to improve their revenue cycle:

  • Addressing costs and transparency

Most patients expect to make a payment, and more than 90 percent want to know their financial responsibility before a provider visit or procedure. ASC’s need to make sure estimates don't deviate too much from the patients' actual bill, else the patient experience will suffer.

  • Prioritizing the patient financial experience

With the patient financial portion steadily going up, it’s important to customize the financial experience so that patients have more options to pay in full. To improve the patient financial experience, ASC’s would do well by adding online payments, mobile payments, and payment plans. Patients are more likely to “partially” pay hospitals for their financial responsibility as shown by a TransUnion Health analysis (the proportion of individuals making partial payments toward their hospital medical bills rose from about 89 percent in 2015 to 77 percent in 2016).

  • Optimizing patient collections 

In addition to providing financial estimates before or at the point-of-service, ASC’s can optimize patient collections by implementing point-of-service or pre-service payment options.

According to a TransUnion survey, about 46 percent of younger patients claim they would be able to pay more patient financial responsibility at the point-of-service if they received a cost estimate. Place more emphasis on collecting at point-of-service and on self-service collection so that paying a bill is as convenient as possible


How ASC’s Can Use Technology for Better Patient Financial Experience

With an increasing number of patients with high deductible health plans, it is essential that ambulatory surgery centers leverage technology and automation to improve the patient financial experience.

According to a ResearchAndMarkets analysis, the ASC market could grow to reach $120.8 billion by 2026 at a 6.1 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). While advanced technologies have increased ASC’s scope of procedures and have driven market growth, there is also a great need in using technology to improve the patient financial experience.

High hospitalization costs are driving patients toward outpatient settings. As individuals with high-deductible plans, patients now have greater financial responsibility for their healthcare and will seek solutions that make the best financial sense.

If patients have a terrible financial experience with your ASC, it will be difficult to collect from them and they will go somewhere else next time they need care. Patient collections have moved beyond simply collecting patient co-payments and sending billing statements. Providers now need to maximize reimbursement not only from health insurers but from patients as well.

With increased risks associated with self-pay patient accounts, automation is becoming the new standard. The cost to collect could reach up to three times higher than on commercial insurance accounts. In addition, the longer a self-pay balance goes unpaid, the harder it is to collect it. Hence, automation can be beneficial by boosting collection efforts of past-due medical debts, decrease human error, maximize productivity, reduce costs, and streamline processes

Using Technology Before and During Service 

Many practices are implementing automated tools that can evaluate patient benefits and eligibility and produce an accurate time of service quotes. Having this information will better prepare front office staff and set proper expectations for the consumer. This type of technology implementation helps to streamline the time of service collections process while ensuring that patients arrive prepared with a full understanding of their responsibilities.

For example, using an automated eligibility verification tool enables ASC’s to verify critical insurance information automatically so that staff can focus on resolving those minimal instances that fall out of the automation system. ASC’s get two benefits from this tool: help with prioritizing staff workflow and preventing eligibility denials (which happens to be the largest cause of denials).

Using Technology for Post-Service: Billing and Collections

Nearly all 900 healthcare financial executives recently surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said their organizations still use paper-based billing and collection strategies. The same survey also revealed the following:

  • More than half of patients prefer electronic billing methods.
  • Patients were more likely to pay their medical bills if they had the option to do so online.

There is a great need for ASC’s and healthcare providers in general to transform their manual patient collection processes to address this changing, consumer-focused trend.

Underpayments could result in a 5% to 7% loss in net revenue. However, if technology is properly utilized, a net collection rate of 96% can be achieved.

Providers can use technology to automate daily payment updates and adjustments on self-pay accounts as this can provide meaningful data on a patient's propensity to pay. The actionable insights that can be gleaned from this data can be very helpful in improving collection processes.

A positive or negative financial experience has an impact on the patient’s perception of care received and overall satisfaction. This experience can consequently affect collection rates and ultimately your surgery center’s bottom line.

By using technology in smart ways, your ASC can improve the patients’ financial experience and improve their cash flow. ASC’s need to continually look for ways to implement new technologies to promote accuracy and efficiency while positively impacting the patient experience.


Three Proactive Approaches for Improved Claims Denials Management

In order to maximize revenue with improved claims denials management, healthcare providers need to follow this advice by Benjamin Franklin: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” For surgery centers and healthcare providers, being proactive means preventing revenue leakage and being profitable. Building a solid strategy and doing regular checkups to maintain a healthy bottom line sets your facility up for growth.

In a traditional revenue cycle structure, departments tend to be siloed – patient access, coding, billing, etc. Everyone is focused on their own tasks and responsibilities (i.e. account resolution). This system can work well until there are issues that need to be addressed, such as claim denials.

The revenue cycle is generally understood as the administrative, financial and clinical functions that contribute to the capture, billing, collection and management of patient service revenue. High-performance revenue cycle is not just about integrating multiple transactions, but about taking a step back and trying to prevent problems in the future. It is actively engaging and integrating these functions to ensure care is properly documented and reimbursed.

Here are three proactive approaches for improving your revenue cycle and claims denials management:

1. Identifying which risks or challenges are present in a revenue cycle

It is not hard to find surgery centers who are “reactive” in their approach instead of being “proactive”. It's only after receiving less payment than expected (or no payment at all) for a service that they investigate the situation and make changes. With days to bill often exceeding 30 days, the service could be performed many times before anyone realizes that something is amiss.

Being proactive means evaluating your center’s practices ahead of time based on the available data and analytics and identifying the risks present in your revenue cycle. Think of it as preventive care for your revenue cycle.

For example, your surgery center needs to have visibility into how many coded claims are denied and the financial impact those denials have on your organization. A 2018 HIMSS Analytics survey found that 76 percent of C-suite executives reported that denials are their biggest revenue cycle challenge. The need to accurately capture and record care is critical to ensuring complete reimbursement, but a large proportion of organizations are currently struggling in this area.

With denials for example, the earlier your facility identifies them, the greater chance you have to resolve the issue. However, many healthcare providers still struggle to identify denials early enough to be effective. This could be due to lack of technology or not being familiar with coding from the payer.

2. Drill down into root causes and come up with a plan to resolve the issues

Get a sense of the current state of your revenue leakage (e.g. denials) and drill down into root causes. Root causes can range from flawed internal processes and technology errors to insurance and clearinghouse mistakes.

A proactive approach means doing something now to prevent problems later. It's about making decisions based on data and analytics.
For example, in denials management, most teams just default to focusing their efforts on revenue recovery. To be proactive, you need to prevent denials in the first place. Preventing denials is always better for your bottom line than recovering them. It’s important to remember that while only about two-thirds of denials are recoverable, 90% of them can be prevented.

Though prevention is not easy, fixing the root cause of denials has a much larger financial impact than overturning them.

In order to find out the root causes, dig deep into the denial data and find out:

• Details on denials types and typical causes
• Insight on denial resolution and the effort involved to overturn denials
• A breakdown of pan-revenue cycle concepts showing the value of coordination between patient access and the business / back office
• Financial impact that denials have on your bottom line

Creating a dedicated team and reporting structure can also help improve denials prevention. Your center needs to engage strong leaders from across multiple departments who are affected by denials and establish a structure of finding out the root causes and resolving them (e.g. scheduling a firm monthly meeting and having each department leader share their top two denial issues).

3. Keep track of your efforts and progress

The reality of a clinical environment is that preventing revenue leakage is not the top priority every day. The average 350-bed hospital saw denial write-offs jump by 79% between 2011 and 2017, from $3.9 million to $7 million.

For example. too often, denial resolution efforts are abandoned by the hospital’s internal billing staff or primary accounts receivable (AR) management firm once the claim reaches a specific age. According to MGMA, an estimated 65% of claim denials are never corrected and re-submitted for reimbursement. Typically claims that exceed 300 days are frequently written off.

Things you can do:

• Keep track of each denial appeal to see if it is successful and then build on those successes
• Know the payers you're having success with and go back and identify the accounts that are denying with that payer with that same issue


Trends Impacting the ASC Landscape: 5 Things To Know

According to McKinsey research, nonhospital-provider segments are primed for growth and could account for almost 55 percent of projected profit pools by 2021. This includes everything from diagnostics, pre-, non-, and post-acute services, surgery centers, physicians and other healthcare professionals.

The pre-acute, non-acute care providers segment (which includes ambulatory surgery centers) is estimated to reach $26 Billion in EBIDTA in 2021 with an annual growth rate of 5-6% from 2017 to 2021.

Different healthcare trends in the areas of utilization, reimbursement, and efficiency will shape the future. In a rapidly changing healthcare landscape, it is critical to understand these trends; otherwise, surgery centers may be missing opportunities to optimize payment and enhance their bottom line.

Graying Population

As the US population ages, payers are seeking to keep the elderly out of hospitals and skilled-nursing facilities if lower-cost settings can provide comparable or better care.

According to the US Census Bureau, from now to 2025, the population aged 65 and older will grow more than four times faster than the total population will grow. Hence, outpatient sites that offer options like 24/7 or weekend care will be poised for growth as they capture the healthcare demands of an ever-graying population.

ASC Reimbursement Trends

In 2019, CMS awarded ASC’s a 2.1 percent reimbursement rate increase on average per procedure.The CMS final rule also included several provisions to level the playing field by raising ASC’s to the higher rate used for hospitals’ outpatient departments and ensuring better reimbursement for devices. The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) estimates that the latter means that ASC’s can now afford to provide 142 additional procedures to Medicare beneficiaries.

In addition, the definition of "surgery" has also been expanded under the ASC payment system to include select "surgery-like" procedures, such as 12 cardiac catheterization procedures. CMS added five additional cardiac catheterization procedures to the ASC covered list as well.

Improvements in Efficiency 

Ambulatory surgery centers are realizing the benefits of scale through their efficiency.

For example, data suggests that the average time for an ambulatory-surgical visit for a Medicare patient in an ASC was 25 percent to 40 percent shorter than for those in a hospital’s outpatient department (HOPD) and that the procedures in ASC’s took 17 percent less time.

In addition, there is a growing demand for “one-stop shopping” from consumers and suppliers. On the consumer side, patients want care that is affordable (especially considering the increases in patient financial responsibility), competent, and convenient. This healthcare-on-demand preference is seen in the rise of ASC’s, urgent care centers, and retail clinics, among others.

To address this need, an increasing number of ASC’s —typically larger operations — are adding ancillary services. These include imaging, pathology, and physical therapy. Such investments can make an ASC more attractive to patients, physicians, and potential business partners.

Millennials’ Mindset Towards Healthcare

The TransUnion Healthcare multi-generational survey found that approximately half of Millennials (46%) would be more apt to pay their medical bills if they were provided an estimate of their healthcare costs at the point of service.

In addition, 57% of Millennials self-reported either ‘no understanding’ or ‘limited understanding’ of their healthcare insurance coverage, compared to 42% of Baby Boomers who said the same.

Despite challenges and trends healthcare providers are facing, Millennials are indeed interested in responsibly paying medical debts, while at the same time, healthcare providers will need to engage patients early.

Increase in Self-pay patients

The volume of direct consumer payments to providers increased 58 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to InstaMed’s annual report. This means that the patient is now the payer and is a very important financial class.

A TransUnion analysis showed that 30% of self-pay accounts (those patients without health insurance or those that have a patient balance after insurance) will generate more than 80% of the self pay revenue collected by hospitals. Another analysis by TransUnion Healthcare also revealed that patients experienced an 11% increase in average out-of-pocket costs in 2017.

ASC’s which can use these trends to their advantage and implement improvements to their revenue cycle strategies will be better poised for future financial growth and boosting their bottom line.


Consumerism in Healthcare: What ASC’s Need to Know

Consumerism in Healthcare: What ASC’s Need to Know

The ASC market is expected to grow at a 4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2027, according to Future Market Insights, with multispecialty ASC’s expected to dominate reaching $76.8 billion over the next decade. As the industry moves toward value-based care, patients are increasingly interested in lower priced settings such as outpatient surgery and ASC’s which are disrupting traditional care models.

However, ASC’s are in a delicate place in terms of meeting patient’s ever-increasing and rapidly changing expectations. Consumerism in healthcare has been an ongoing complex study which is a challenge even for ASC’s.

ASC’s have a lot to learn from customer-centric business models implemented within other industries like retail and tech. Here are just a few of the things that ASC’s need to learn in order to adapt to the increasing consumerism trend:

The four pillars of consumerism: access, experience, pricing, and infrastructure

Kaufman Hall’s 2019 Healthcare Consumerism Index reveals the challenges that legacy healthcare providers face in adapting to the ever-rising bar of consumer needs and expectations.

Here are some key takeaways from their report:

Only 8% of hospitals and health systems demonstrate strong consumer-centric performance
A staggering 68% of organizations either have not begun (29%), or are in the very early stages of their consumerism efforts (39%)
For ASC’s and the healthcare industry as a whole to catch-up in an online, convenience-obsessed, and increasingly consumer-focused world, they would need to excel in the four pillars of consumerism.

Access: Today’s consumers increasingly demand quick and easy access to any and all services through a variety of access points—whether physical or virtual—with digital tools to add convenience.

More than half of respondents offer urgent or ambulatory care centers, but only a third offer widespread, basic online scheduling for existing patients.

Experience: Enhancing the consumer experience has a lot to do with patient communication. Some strategies include: automated appointment reminders, centralized call routing, electronic messaging between patients and providers, consumer-friendly billing and payment options.

Few offer real-time scheduling and communications necessary to keep pace with today’s digitally connected consumers.

Pricing: A recent Kaufman Hall survey of how US consumers find and select providers and services found that more than a third research costs in selecting where to go for comparable services. As expectations rise and federal and state laws move toward requiring greater transparency, healthcare providers must implement effective pricing strategies and tools to communicate price estimates to consumers conveniently and accurately.

Only few of healthcare providers offer true price transparency.

Infrastructure: Overall efforts to build an infrastructure of consumer insights and analytics continue to be sub-optimal relative to its critical importance for competing effectively in the marketplace

More than half of hospitals and health systems have developed consumer-centric missions and strategies, but a majority have not yet built infrastructures needed to support such objectives.

Patients are taking an increasingly active role in their healthcare

The rise in healthcare consumerism is driven by a lot of factors, one of which is patients having greater financial responsibility (higher co-pay, deductibles, and overall costs). With such high costs, patients tend to “shop” for surgical options.

Patients’ expectations are also changing, driven by their experiences from other industries like airlines and retail. Patients demand improved services and enhanced experiences when engaging with providers and health systems.

As patients are faced with increased treatment choices, care options, and cost concerns, they are now becoming highly active in their healthcare choices.

Patients are increasingly prepared to interact as consumers rather than as passive patients. As consumers, patients want to be in control of the services that they would want to afford. They want to be involved and informed of every step that will be made throughout their healthcare experience.

ASC’s have long led the way in cost-effective and quality care, serving as role models for other providers trying to determine how best to navigate today's evolving landscape that rewards quality over quantity. The number of procedures performed in ASC’s has continually been on the rise, with surgery centers now performing more than 20 million surgeries annually. ASC’s still have a long way to go to be on par with other industries in meeting, or exceeding, a patient’s expectations. Now is the time to ensure that your ASC is on the right track and not lagging in the consumerism trend.


News & Notes:
August 2019

Mark Your Calendars: Pelosi Expects Drug Pricing Bill in September

A top aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said House Democrats will unveil their long-awaited bill to lower drug prices in September. Wendell Primus, Pelosi’s top health care adviser, in July said House leadership was almost ready to release the proposal but opted to hold off so that drug companies could not attack it during the August recess, according to a news report published by Kaiser Health News. To read more Kaiser Health News, visit https://khn.org/ or click here: https://tinyurl.com/y4ocquwp

Senate Health Committee Continues to Work on Lower Healthcare Costs

Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in late July released the following statement on the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019: “The Senate does not have time before the August recess to consider the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act, which the Senate’s health committee approved 20-3 on June 26, and includes proposals from 74 of our colleagues—35 Republican and 39 Democratic Senators.” To read more from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, visit its website at https://www.help.senate.gov.

For more health care collections news, visit ACA’s Health Care Collections page at www.acainternational.org/pulse.