Patient financial assistance with hospital bills was sought out at a higher rate in 2021 compared to 2020 partly due to hospital billing practices, according to new data from TransUnion Healthcare.
Patients may receive financial assistance from hospitals to help them understand all the options available to them when it comes to paying their medical bills.
TransUnion Healthcare analyzed millions of financial assistance transactions that the company helped process at more than 1,000 hospitals and physician practices. The data revealed that the number of financial assistance transactions has continued to increase since September 2018. More specifically, there has been a 270 percent increase in transactions in the last three years.
Between September 2020 and September 2021 alone, the number of financial assistance transactions increased by 55 percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic recession may have played a role in boosting financial assistance transactions, but experts say that poor hospital billing practices also contributed to the increase.
“This data reflect the increased financial pressure on healthcare systems as well as patients who are struggling with the burden of high healthcare costs,” Jonathan Wiik, principal of healthcare strategy at TransUnion Healthcare, stated in the press release.
“We are recommending that hospitals engage patients confidently and increase transparency and communication in regard to billing, beginning with providing patients a clear understanding of the cost of care at intake, and then streamlining financial clearance and charity screening throughout the revenue cycle.”
Informing patients of costs ahead of time can help them feel better prepared to pay their medical bills. Past data from TransUnion found that 70 percent of patients said knowing the costs before a procedure can help them budget for payments. Additionally, 65 percent of patients said they would pay part of the charges in advance if they knew the cost beforehand.
Medical bills have also pushed patients to defer healthcare. A consumer survey from TransUnion revealed that 35 percent of patients with outstanding bills said that their bills kept them from seeking healthcare in the past year.
“By communicating with patients early on, helping them understand their cost of care and their payment options—including financial assistance—healthcare systems can improve outcomes for patients as well as the hospital’s bottom line,” Wiik added.
Since the pandemic hit, health systems have altered their medical billing practices to facilitate the process for patients.
Monument Health prioritized patient financial education and training to implement patient-friendly billing options. The health system trained frontline staff to fully understand financial assistance policies and patient financial responsibility, so when the time came, staff could then help patients better understand.
A past survey from the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), revealed that the majority of providers changed their patient collection strategy in some way in response to the pandemic.
Hospitals and health systems reported a number of adjustments to their billing practices, including increasing patient payment options, delaying credit reporting, and allowing patients to extend payment terms and delay payments. Nearly three out of four providers said their organizations were increasing efforts to identify unemployed and uninsured patients as well.
The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on healthcare stakeholders across the country. In addition, patients have continued to struggle with paying their medical bills. If hospitals and providers work to reshape their billing processes, it may help to relieve some of the financial burden patients are facing. Complying with the CMS hospital price transparency rule may also prove to be beneficial for patients and their finances.