Three Caveats You Should Remember While Writing Off Patient Balances

Published: 12th April 2011
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Your practice should be caring; however if you are letting patients off the payment hook, your compassion could land you on your payer's and the Attorney General's bad books. Figure out if you know the bottom line when it comes to writing off patient balances by taking a look at this case study.

brHere's the scenario: Your physician treats various patients who were sent away recently because a local company had shut down. The physician would want to continue to see those patients but at the same time would also like to waive their copayments and deductibles.

Billing tight spot: The doctor would like to send the patient a couple of bills; however tell the patient to ignore them. After this, he wants the biller to write off the ‘bad debt' after the second bill is sent out.

See to it that you are not setting yourself up for major troubles with these three tips.

  • Stay away from potentially fraudulent exceptions

    You should never tell patients to ignore the bills you send because you will just write off the charges after a certain period of time.

    While waiving of a fee for a professional courtesy or financial difficulty may be nice, you may land yourself in a soup. If there was ever an audit do your doctors want to risk the ramifications of being nice?"

    Reason: You must make a good effort to collect from your patients. Most practices send at least three statements to a patient to try to collect an outstanding bill. How you make the good faith attempt to collect is up to your practice; however make it a point to document your efforts.

    Not only do you run the risk of upsetting other patients who could find out about the unfair policy, you could also be violating your payer contracts or for that matter even anti-kickback laws. Take a look at your contracts with the insurers is it a violation to waive these fees? You aren't supposed to do this with federal programs (that is., Medicare). See to it that you're not violating the anti-kickback statute as it carries stiff fines of $10,000-25,000.

  • If you waive payments keep financial hardship proof

    Do not think that you cannot ever write off a patient balance. The concept is that the practice has to show that they have made a good faith attempt to collect and then they wrote off the balance.

    If you've got patients who truly cannot pay their balances owing to their financial hardship, you might want to think about writing off the balance -- after you have made an endeavor to try to collect and got proof of financial hardship.

    If there's a true financial hardship, have them fill out a request for waiving of the balance and follow-up to see if there is actually one. Bona fide patients won't mind.

    Be steady in your collection processes

    The key is that you have to apply a consistent collections policy to all of your patients. If your normal process is to send a patient to collections if they do not pay you have to follow the same guidelines with this patient.

    For further details on this and for other specialty-specific articles to assist your neurosurgery coding and billing, sign up for a good medical coding resource like Coding Institute.

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