Squeezed by patients who cannot pay for their health care, hospitals are being pushed into a change in behavior: they are making patients pre-pay for their service.There’s much to trouble the reader here. That pre-pay has arisen because so many patients cannot pay their bills is another sign of how ruinously expensive American health care is. And the story also indicates in places that debt is increasing, despite the meagre attempts Affordable Care Act made to rein in costs.But there is an upside to this news. USA Today reports:
Hospital executives and some doctors said they’ve had to focus on increased training for their workers at the counter to be assertive in discussing the costs of care and what people will need to pay. When making appointments, schedulers and receptionists are urged to remind patients about what they’ll be expected to pay during their visit.Before scheduling tests, radiology screenings and other services, hospitals routinely verify coverage electronically and inform patients on the spot of how much they’ll need to pay in advance. If a patient says they don’t have money, more doctors and hospitals are asking for the amount a person can remit and putting clients on payment plans.
To pre-pay, you have to be pre-informed of the price you will pay. It’s far better to learn how much a procedure costs upfront, to know what you are getting into and plan accordingly, than be crushed by an unexpectedly high bill after the procedure has already been performed. Moreover, one of the biggest ways health care in America doesn’t resemble anything like a market is price opacity: you don’t know the price of the service you are buying until you’ve already ‘bought’ it. Patients can’t possibly make an informed decision about health care while that opacity persists.If pre-pay is a first halting step to helping reduce opacity, that’s in its own way a good thing—even if it is far removed from a workable, humane solution to our health care crisis.