Medical debt collection has been a big part of my business for nearly 15 years now. In that time, things have changed. Many small practices have been swallowed up by large medical groups. As respects medical debt collection, there have been some key effects as well: some good and some not so good. On one hand, the Affordable Care Act has provided insurance coverage for millions, which prevents medical debt resulting from lack of any insurance coverage. On the other hand, insurance out-of-pocket expenses have risen. Large deductibles may lower premiums, but leave more and more patients with thousands of dollars of debt they are unable to pay, at least all at once.
In addition to consumers, small to mid-sized practices are especially impacted when patients cannot pay their medical bills, or pay them slowly. Cash flow becomes an issue when patients do not pay, but ongoing expenses of the practice continue.
Fast forward to today, when I had need to visit a walk-in medical clinic here in Portland. The woman at reception greeted me and after gathering initial contact information, asked me for an ID and my insurance card. She asked me to sit down while she verified my coverage. Next, she called back to her desk and reviewed with me my insurance coverage and estimated out of pocket costs. I signed a form indicating that I would pay any amounts insurance would not cover. Lastly, she asked me for a credit card to keep on file to assure payment of the out of pocket costs.
Most medical and dental providers do not get paid up front. In order to remain competitive, they accept insurance and bill you later for what insurance does not cover. In short, they provide you credit. Although they do not have the opportunity to pull credit and checks references before providing service to you, they can minimize their risk of delinquent debts by gathering information on patients, communicating insurance benefits and making sure you know you are responsible for out of pocket costs.
Medical debt collection, therefore, is not only about chasing patients who do not pay. It begins the minute a patient walks in the door.