Don’t Let Cost Deter Patients From Treatment

According to a new Gallup poll, 30 percent of patients said they or people they know aren’t seeing their providers to receive the care they need because they can’t afford to pay their medical bills. Cost is often a challenge for patients, and is becoming increasingly so as more are seeing their personal cost responsibilities rise due to high-deductible health plans. For critical care patients, this trend to forgo treatment because they perceive care to be expensive, can be detrimental to patients and hospitals alike. Americans have already pointed to medical payments as their top health concern this past year in a previous Gallup poll. If patients hold off treatment for serious conditions, their bills may only rise once they do seek care. Patients’ out-of-pocket costs may be higher when they eventually do seek treatment than if they would have received care earlier. Many hospital executives understand the financial and clinical risks of patients skipping treatment, yet what can hospitals do?

Embrace price transparency
The Gallup poll received responses from 1,039 Americans to determine if the percentage of people putting off treatment is higher or lower compared to years past. According to the poll, while the percentage remained relatively consistent, from 30 to 32 percent, there continues to be an ongoing trend of patients declining to receive care due to cost. According to the study’s author, “Fifty-nine percent of the uninsured have done so, compared with roughly one-quarter of those with Medicare or Medicaid (22 percent) or private health insurance (25 percent).”

It’s not just healthy patients who need preventive care who are putting off treatment – more seriously ill patients are avoiding care as well. The survey found more patients put off treatment when they have a serious condition than when they don’t. Nineteen percent of respondents said they haven’t gone into the health system when the condition was serious, while only 11 percent of people said the same for a nonserious condition. Patients’ bills increase when otherwise healthy patients get sick because they skipped preventative care that might have caught the problem earlier. The risks of higher costs rise even more when patients with critical conditions put off treatment.

Yet there is a solution that will help more patients understand the true cost of care. Cost estimation at the point of service can show patients exactly what portion of the bill they will be responsible for before they receive treatment. Price transparency will be key to hospitals boosting their patient collections. When cost estimation is paired with patient friendly billing, patients know exactly what they will owe and arrange for payment plans or financing that will make the necessary care accessible.

According to The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation, price transparency can help people with high-deductible plans understand their cost responsibilities. A recent study of 1,421 consumers noted when patients know how much they will owe for numerous procedures, they will often choose the more expensive option because they believe they will receive better treatment, according to the foundation. What this information means for hospital executives is that price transparency pays off for both hospitals and patients. Providing patients with a cost estimation helps them to understand the true cost of care. Patients may perceive their bills as high because they were not involved in the decision-making process, and therefore will forgo treatment in the future. Price transparency gives patients control over their own medical bills and encourages them to continue to seek care. When they do suffer from a critical condition, they will understand their financial responsibility and seek treatment.

All in all, consumer friendly billing can help hospitals mitigate the dangerous practice of forgoing care. Cost shouldn’t stop someone from being in good health. Clear patient billing can make a difference in the patient’s decision making process.