Trend of new fees worries health advocates

Surprise fees can weigh heavily on underprepared patients.

As readers of this blog have learned, cost transparency has emerged as a major factor for health care facilities avoiding issues related to bad debt. In past articles, we have explored some of the tools insurance providers have made available to their subscribers that help them find care that they can afford. However, the New York Times recently reported that despite these cost transparency tools, patients are still being surprised by the total cost of care. 

Faced with shrinking federal reimbursements and rising costs, many practices have resorted to adding surprise fees and other charges to their final bill. Because many of these are novel charges that have not been seen before, and have only been recently been put in place, patients are finding it difficult to anticipate the cost of their care. 

One example of the trend provided by the source involved 16-year-old Anna Hardenberg, who traveled to an in-network emergency care center after taking a rough fall from her bicycle. She had been to the same facility several times before, with no financial surprises. This time however, her mother was presented with a bill that had charges such as $2,457 fee for "noncritical activation" of the trauma team in addition to the hospital's $240 facility fee. Her mother also noted an $84 charge for a soft cervical brace that her daughter was given while waiting, that she was not allowed to take home. 

As insurance providers and care facilities battle over the best strategies to control costs, patients should not have to become collateral damage. Care facilities may be able to reduce or remove many of these fees by electing to outsource receivables management. This decision can lead to a drastic reduction in the funds written off to bad debt, and ensure a more consistent cash flow.