The Financial Pain of Healthcare Blog Series - Part 1: Patients

Published on July 12, 2018 by Capio

As patients become responsible for increasing amounts of provider revenue, it’s easy to lose sight of a simple truth: patients are people. And people tend to be emotional about both their health and their finances. Combine the two and you’ve got a recipe for real stress, especially if their healthcare provider treats them like an account receivable or robot outside of the clinical setting.

High deductibles, hefty co-pays, and larger balances after insurance mean a lot of patientsfinancial-pain-of-healthcare-part-1 put off care or avoid it altogether. Nearly 40% of insured Americans don’t seek preventive care at all. Even more avoid the doctor when they have an actual health concern. Many patients also report cutting the dosage of their prescriptions in half to save money.

Anyone who has worked in healthcare knows that health issues don’t tend to get easier—or less expensive—to treat as time goes on. And as health problems exacerbate, patients are even more likely to avoid care due to concerns about costs. This creates a vicious cycle.

The negative impacts of healthcare costs often don’t hit patients until after they’ve sought care, their case has been adjudicated, and they’ve received a final bill they are responsible for (or bills, if their care involved more than one provider or any lab tests) in the mail. Many patients are surprised how little of the expenses were covered by their insurance. Even a relatively small debt can send a patient into sticker shock. A Bankrate survey found that nearly two-thirds of American’s could not come up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected expense.

A less visible, but still important, impact is what owing a bill can do to a patient’s dignity. The vast majority of patients have the best intentions to pay their bills before they become debt, but household budgets are tight and unexpected bills can throw many people off. This can be a humiliating experience for some, and when a patient feels that kind of stress on top of their recovery from the health issue that sent them to the doctor in the first place, they will often see less than optimal health outcomes—which can lead them to need more care, especially as the inability to pay is often a long-term situation, leading to months- or years-long anxiety The patient might not know that he or she is now referred to by the provider as “bad debt,” but they certainly feel the negative connotations that term carries.

There is a way to treat patients like people, even when providers are billing them for services rendered. But before we talk about ways providers can do that, let’s discuss how the shift to patient financial responsibility can have negative consequences on providers as well. Read Part 2 for more about that.

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