Physician, heal thy patients wallets. Thats the takeaway from a new report on how well physicians help their patients cope with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts. According to the report, which appeared in the October issue of the American Journal of Managed Care, the answer is: not well at all.
As Modern Physician reporter Andis Robeznieks reports in this issues Beyond the Headlines, fewer than half of the more than 528 physicians surveyed for the report discuss medical budgets with patients. Even fewer admit to knowing how high-deductible health plans and HSAs work.
Thats not just bad news for patients, its bad news for the financial performance of physician practices. As weve reported previously in Modern Physician, the biggest impact that such plans will have on physician practices is the dramatic increase in the practices bad-debt costs. Patients with high out-of-pocket deductibles and copayments may not be able to afford them, leaving physicians to eat the costs until the patients insurance coverage kicks in.
The best way for physician practices to avoid this financial disaster is to become not just the patients health advocate but the patients wealth advocate. Physicians or their practice managers need to become medical financial planners for their patients. Of course, the medical needs of patients come first. But all things being equal, practices need to educate patients on varying treatment options, how much those options cost and what effect those options will have on them financially given their health coverage.
Practices are in a great position to steer patients away from costly treatment options that could eat up their high deductibles quickly, especially when lower cost and equally effective treatment options are available. Practices that take this proactive approach not only will help patients but also leave a little on the table for themselves afterward.
David BurdaEditorModern Physician