Patients with high deductibles skimping even on ‘free’ healthcare

As high-deductible health plans become increasingly commonplace, patients who don’t understand their plans very well may skip wellness visits and screenings that are essentially free or little cost to them. Medical practices can play an important role in educating patients about screenings that could improve their health and save them money in the long run by catching or preventing more serious conditions.

Patients often enroll in high-deductible plans because their employers offer no other option or because they can’t afford the higher premiums that come with lower-deductible plans. It only makes sense that if patients are challenged by premiums, they might also have issues with copays, coinsurance and high deductibles. Recent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation/New York Times reveals that even insured patients struggle with medical debt – roughly 20 percent of insured patients under 65 said they had trouble paying medical bills in the previous year.

This is an issue that isn’t likely to go away. A 2014 report from PwC’s Health Research Institute found that 44 percent of employers are considering offering high-deductible health plans as the only option for employees over the next few years.

Ironically, high-deductible plans were intended to help consumers deal with rising healthcare costs by giving them an incentive to shop around for their care. But the Kaiser research shows that 69 percent of patients found it “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to get an estimate of treatment costs in advance.

Physicians and medical practices can help by understanding the financial pressures patients are facing, being transparent about what treatment will cost and educating patients on which screenings and visits are available at little or no charge to them.

Of course, medical practices need to make as many of their patient visits count toward the bottom line as possible. With so many payers and plans in the market, it can be challenging to stay up-to-date with shifting patient enrollment. Having an efficient means to verify eligibility and to submit claims electronically is essential to getting reimbursed quickly, fully and fairly.


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