Obamacare fight obscures America’s real health care crisis: Money

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/03/obamacare-health-care-crisis-1314382

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The ceaseless battle over the 2010 law has made it difficult to address the high cost of American health care.

The Obamacare wars have ignored what really drives American anxiety about health care: Medical costs are decimating family budgets and turning the U.S. health system into a runaway $3.7 trillion behemoth.

Poll after poll shows that cost is the number one issue in health care for American voters, but to a large extent, both parties are still mired in partisan battles over other aspects of Obamacare – most notably how to protect people with pre-existing conditions and how to make insurance more affordable, particularly for people who buy coverage on their own.

That leaves American health care consumers with high premiums, big deductibles and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for drugs and other services. Neither party has a long-term solution — and the renewed fight over Obamacare that burst out over the past 10 days has made compromise even more elusive.

Democrats want to improve the 2010 health law, with more subsidies that shift costs to the taxpayer. Republicans are creating lower-cost alternatives to Obamacare, which means shifting costs to older and sicker people.

Neither approach gets at the underlying problem — reducing costs for both ordinary people and the health care burden on the overall U.S. economy.

Senate HELP Committee chair Lamar Alexander, the retiring Tennessee Republican with a reputation for deal-making, has reached out to think tanks and health care professionals in an attempt to refocus the debate, saying the interminable fights about the Affordable Care Act have “put the spotlight in the wrong place.”

“The hard truth is that we will never get the cost of health insurance down until we get the cost of health care down,” Alexander wrote, soliciting advice for a comprehensive effort on costs he wants to start by summer.

But given the partisanship around health care — and the fact there have been so many similar outreaches over the years for ideas, white papers and commissions — it’s hard to detect momentum. Truly figuring how to fix anything as vast, complex and politically charged as health care is difficult. Any serious effort will create winners and losers, some of whom are well-protected by powerful K Street lobbies.

And the health care spending conversation itself gets muddled. People’s actual health care bills aren’t always top of mind in Washington.

“Congress is looking at federal budgets. Experts are looking at national health spending and the GDP and value. And the American people look at their own out-of-pocket health care costs and the impact it has on family budgets,” said Drew Altman, the president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which extensively tracks public attitudes on health.

But Congress tends to tinker around the edges — and feud over Obamacare.

“We’re doing nothing. Nothing. We’re heading toward the waterfall,” said former CBO director Doug Elmendorf, now the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, who sees the political warfare over the ACA as a “lost decade,” given the high stakes for the nation’s economic health.

The solutions championed by the experts — a mix of pricing policies, addressing America’s changing demographics, delivering care more efficiently, creating the right incentives for people to use the right care and the smarter use of high-cost new technologies — are different than what the public would prescribe. The most recent POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found the public basically wants lower prices, but not a lot of changes to how — or how much — they consume health care, other than spending more on prevention.

Lawmakers are looking at how to start chipping away at high drug prices, or fix “surprise” medical bills that hit insured people who end up with an out-of-network doctor even when they’re at an in-network hospital. Neither effort is insignificant, and both are bipartisan. While those steps would help lower Americans’ medical bills, health economists say they won’t do enough to reverse the overall spending trajectory.

Drug costs and surprise bills, which patients have to pay directly, “have been a way the public glimpses true health care costs,” said Melinda Buntin, chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “That information about how high these bills and these charges can be has raised awareness of health care costs — but it has people focused only on that part of the solution.”

And given that President Donald Trump has put Obamacare back in the headlines, the health law will keep sucking up an outsized share of Washington’s oxygen until and quite likely beyond the 2020 elections.

Just in the last week, the Justice Department urged the courts to throw out Obamacare entirely, two courts separately tossed key administration policies on Medicaid and small business health plans, and Trump himself declared he wants the GOP to be the “party of health care.” Facing renewed political pressure over the party’s missing Obamacare replacement plan, Trump last week promised Republicans would devise a grand plan to fix it. He backtracked days later and said it would be part of his second-term agenda.

Democrats say Trump’s ongoing assaults on the ACA makes it harder to address the big picture questions of cost, value and quality. “That’s unfortunately our state of play right now,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). “Basic health care needs are being attacked and threatened to be taken away, so we have to defend that.”

The ACA isn’t exactly popular; more than half the country now has a favorable view of it, but it’s still divisive. But for Republicans and Democrats alike, the new POLITICO-Harvard poll found the focus was squarely on health care prices — the cost of drugs, insurance, hospitals and doctors, in that order.

The Republicans’ big ideas have been to encourage less expensive health insurance plans, which are cheaper because they don’t include the comprehensive benefits under Obamacare. That may or may not be a good idea for the young and healthy, but it undoubtedly shifts the costs to the older and sicker. The GOP has also supported spending hundreds of millions less each year on Medicaid, which serves low-income people — but if the federal government pays less, state governments, hospitals and families will pay more.

Last week, courts blocked rules in two states that required many Medicaid enrollees to work in order to keep their health benefits, and also nixed Trump’s expansion of association health plans, which let trade groups and businesses offer coverage that doesn’t include all the benefits required under the ACA.

House Democrats last week introduced a package of bills that would boost subsidies in the Obamacare markets and extend that financial assistance to more middle-class people. The legislation would also help states stabilize their insurance markets — something that the Trump administration has also helped some states do through programs backstopping health insurers’ large costs.

These ideas may also bring down some people’s out-of-pocket costs, which indirectly lets taxpayers pick up the tab. These steps aren’t meaningless — more people would be covered and stronger Obamacare markets would stabilize premiums — but they aren’t an overall fix.

The progressive wing of the Democratic party backs “Medicare for All,” a brand new health care system that would cover everyone for free, including long-term care for elderly or disabled people. Backers say that the administrative simplicity, fairness, and elimination of the private for-profit insurance industry would pay for much of it.

The idea has moved rapidly from pipe dream to mainstream, but big questions remain even among some sympathetic Democrats about financing and some of the economic assumptions, including about how much of a role private insurance plays in Medicare today, and how much Medicare puts some of its costs onto other payers. Already a political stretch, the idea would face a lot more economic vetting, too.

The experts, as well as a smattering of politicians, define the health cost crisis more broadly: what the country spends. Health care inflation has moderated in recent years; backers of the Affordable Care Act say the law has contributed to that. But health spending is still growing faster than the overall economy. CMS actuaries said this winter that if current trends continue, national health expenditures would approach nearly $6 trillion by 2027 — and health care’s share of GDP would go from 17.9 percent in 2017 to 19.4 percent by 2027. There aren’t a lot of health economists who’d call that sustainable.

And ironically, the big fixes favored by the health policy experts — the ones that Alexander is collecting but most politicians are ignoring — might address many of the problems that keep aggravating U.S. politics. If there were rational prices that reflected the actual value of care provided for specific episodes of illness and treatment, instead of the fragmented system that largely pays for each service provided to patients, then no medical bill would be a surprise, noted Mark McClellan, who was both FDA and CMS chief under the President George W. Bush and now runs the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.

“But taking those steps take time and will be challenging,” McClellan noted. “And they’ll be resisted by a lot of entrenched forces.”

 

 

 

The winning health care message will be about out of pocket costs

https://www.axios.com/winning-2020-health-care-out-of-pocket-costs-d5708e35-b308-4c91-a636-121e45f82032.html

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As the 2020 campaign ramps up, Democrats may be able to rally their base by talking about universal coverage and making health care a right through Medicare-for-all. Republicans may be able to motivate their core voters by branding progressive Democratic ideas as socialism.

The catch: But it’s the candidates who can connect their plans and messages to voters’ worries about out of pocket costs who will reach beyond the activists in their base. And the candidates aren’t speaking to that much, at least so far.

By the numbers:

  • The anxiety over out of pocket costs is real. In a January 2017 Kaiser poll, 48 percent of voters worried about paying their health care bills.
  • People who are sick are especially concerned, with 66 percent worried and 49 percent very worried.
  • It isn’t just in their heads: a whopping half of people who are sick have a problem paying their medical bills over the course of a year. The health insurance system is not working for people who are sick.

Thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, only 10 percent of the population remains uncovered. But that means many Americans are less focused on getting to universal coverage, even though candidate after candidate talks about it. They have insurance and are focused on their own, often crippling health care costs.

  • Most Americans are healthy and don’t use much care, but almost everyone, not just people with a major illness, worries about what might happen if they or a family member get cancer or heart disease or suffer a permanent injury.
  • That’s what fuels health care as an issue: the fear of facing costs people know they cannot afford. And that’s why protections for people with pre-existing conditions broke through as a prominent issue in the midterm election.
  • The debate and the Democratic message could shift back to the ACA again, after President Trump and the Justice Department’s surprise decision to push for throwing out the entire law in the courts. That move handed Democrats a political opportunity they will not ignore: a pre-existing conditions debate on steroids.

Recent trends have made problems with out of pocket costs worse:

Some of the administration’s policies are exacerbating the problem, such as their efforts to push cheaper short term insurance plans for the healthy, which drive up costs for the sick because they leave fewer healthy people in the regular insurance plans to help pay for sick people’s costs.

  • Several of the candidates’ plans address out of pocket costs, including the Bernie Sanders plan, which eliminates them. Their advocates just don’t talk about it much.

The bottom line: It’s hard to see the new debate about the health system breaking out of familiar boxes unless the messaging changes. And when the general election comes, both parties will have to convince voters that they will do something about out of pocket costs if they want to reach beyond core base voters. 

 

 

 

“Skin in the game” doesn’t work

https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05018?stream=top&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&journalCode=hlthaff

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Making people pay more of their health care bill out of pocket does not make them smarter shoppers, according to a new study published in Health Affairs, which corroborates earlier research.

The big picture: Part of the idea behind those ever-increasing insurance deductibles is that patients who have to put more of their own money on the line will become better consumers, comparison-shopping for the highest-quality, lowest-cost services.

  • But it doesn’t seem to work that way in the real world.

What they’re saying: In the Health Affairs survey of people with high-deductible plans …

  • Just 25% had talked to their provider about how much something would cost.
  • 14% had compared prices at multiple facilities.
  • 14% had compared quality metrics for multiple facilities.
  • 7% had tried to negotiate a price.

Between the lines: People don’t do these things because they don’t even think of it, or assume it won’t work. Or, to borrow some truly glorious academic-speak: “Perceptions of futility were common impediments to engagement.”

  • separate study, also published in Health Affairs, did find one effect of high deductibles: They seem to make women more likely to delay treatment for breast cancer.

Yes, but: There’s some evidence that if patients try to avail themselves of comparison-shopping tools, they can achieve real savings, at least for MRIs and other imaging procedures.

 

Insurers don’t pay full price for medicines, why do you?

https://www.letstalkaboutcost.org/

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A new study found net prices for medicines grew just 1.5% last year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel that way for you. Forty percent of a medicine’s list price is given as a rebate or discount to the government and middlemen, like insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).

These rebates and discounts exceed $150 billion annually, but insurers don’t always share these savings with you.

Visit LetsTalkAboutCost.org to find out more.

 

 

Narrowing choice to curb rising employer spend

https://gisthealthcare.com/weekly-gist/

When Presbyterian Health System struck a deal with Intel to manage care for the firm’s Albuquerque employees, followed by Providence Health & Service’s ACO-like contract to provide care to Boeing employees in Seattle, we became optimistic about the potential of direct contracting between health systems and large employers.

But five years after those landmark deals, we were still just talking about Boeing and Intel. Few other employers followed suit, instead preferring to control spend by shifting more of the cost of coverage onto their employees in the form of higher deductibles, larger co-pays, and greater co-insurance.

In 2018 the average family deductible in employer-sponsored insurance hit $3,000, and in most markets deductibles of $5,000 or higher are not uncommon. Our recent conversations with employers suggest that they are now questioning the utility of shifting more costs onto employees. As deductibles rise, employers see diminishing returns. In contrast to instituting the first $1,000 deductible, moving an already high deductible from $3,000 to $4,000 does little to change employee behavior. And employers are genuinely worried about the impact of rising cost sharing on their employee’s financial and physical health.

Given the historically strong labor market, employers have been reticent to change benefit design in any way that could be perceived as narrowing choice. But the reluctance to push cost sharing further creates an opening for providers and innovators that offer alternative solutions to encourage employees to choose a “high-performance network”—the new term of art for a narrow network.

Across the past year we’ve seen a range of strategies to create high-performance networks, described in the graphic below. The pace of direct contracting between health systems and employers has quickened. But other solutions challenge the premise that a single health system provides the best solution for every high-cost condition or procedure. Start-up insurer Bind aims to create bespoke networks for high-cost procedures by identifying the best doctors and hospitals regardless of affiliation, essentially “unbundling” the health system. Others, like health benefits solution provider Accolade, create a concierge-like service to support employee decision-making—while preferentially steering them to lower-cost providers.

It remains to be seen which of these solutions will produce the greatest returns, and whether the gains can be sustained over time. However, we wonder whether companies will really have the fortitude to engage employees in conversations about narrower networks. Many will likely prefer to shift the task of narrowing networks onto employees themselves; we still believe that defined contribution health benefits will be the ultimate solution for employers to manage spend. It’s likely employers will require the cover of a recession to make this dramatic switch in benefit design. In the interim, there seems to be a window of opportunity for high-performance network assemblers to demonstrate that they can be an attractive and effective solution to rising costs.

 

 

 

Patient Financial Experience the New Focus for Revenue Cycle Tech

https://revcycleintelligence.com/features/patient-financial-experience-the-new-focus-for-revenue-cycle-tech?eid=CXTEL000000093912&elqCampaignId=8479&elqTrackId=be91ef7e45814e448e63f5f449863c07&elq=c0883462d36f46f1919e194284b0fcd0&elqaid=8937&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=8479

Facing healthcare consumerism and high deductibles, providers are seeking revenue cycle technology to deliver a high-quality patient financial experience.

Hospitals and practices have traditionally relied on public and private payers to cover the bulk of patient charges and costs for their services. Everything from their revenue cycle technologies to billing workflows has been tailored to create cleaner claims, reduce denials, and collect payer reimbursement.

But in an environment of record spending and changing attitudes towards purchasing and payment, payers are starting to shift more financial responsibility to their consumers. Nearly 21 million Americans had a high-deductible health plan or health savings account in 2017, and AHIP experts anticipate enrollment in high-deductible plans to continue climbing.

Increases in patient out-of-pocket spending are driving individuals to become more discerning healthcare consumers who demand more value for the medical services they receive. Plans and policymakers argue that the rise in healthcare consumerism will ultimately result in lower cost, higher quality care.

In the meantime, however, high-deductible health plans and other increases in out-of-pocket spending are presenting challenges to providers who are not used to this new player: the patient as a payer.

Three-quarters of providers report that they are seeing a noticeable upward trend in what patients must pay out of pocket.   At hospitals, total revenue attributable to patient balances after insurance rose 88 percent from 2012 to 2017.

While payers have been steadily shifting the financial responsibility to consumers, providers have yet to adapt their workflows and systems to collect revenue from this new source while delivering a satisfactory experience to consumers.

For example, nearly all 900 healthcare financial executives recently surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said their organizations still use paper-based billing and collection strategies – despite the fact that the same survey revealed more than half of patients prefer electronic billing methods.

Patients in the survey even said they were more likely to pay their medical bills if they had the option to do so online.

In light of these statistics, providers are facing the difficult task of transforming their manual patient collection processes to address this changing, consumer-focused trend.

“What we’ve seen historically has been that the revenue cycle has been not as well funded or not as strategically prioritized for healthcare delivery networks. A lot of the decision making has been either reactive or more short-term oriented,” Joe Polaris, Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at the health IT company R1 RCM, recently told RevCycleIntelligence.com.

“But we’re starting to see more of a long-term strategic vision coming together for their revenue cycles,” he added. “Organizations understand they need to make transformative change in light of some of the challenges that are only growing in the market, especially the need to be consumer-friendly.”

Revenue cycle technologies that cater to the patient financial experience are part of that transformative change, added Matt Hawkins, the CEO of Waystar, the newly combined revenue cycle management company formed by ZirMed and Navicure.

“Innovators are beginning, more so than ever, to treat the patient as a consumer,” he said. “A lot of health systems are demanding or embracing services or technologies that get them closer to patients from the earliest interaction point.”

The demand for technologies that cater to the patient financial experience is on the rise. And providers could face significant financial losses and patient retention problems if they fail to adapt to healthcare consumerism.

Becoming a patient-centered entity that can collect what it’s owed without alienating its consumers is a significant challenge, experts agree.  But embracing a handful of high-impact strategies could help to ensure that both patients and their providers complete the payment process feeling satisfied.

PRICE TRANSPARENCY LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE

“Consumerism” may be a popular buzzword in the healthcare industry, but providers still have a long way to go before their patients can accurately compare their clinical journeys to their retail experiences.

For one thing, patients often agree to services or procedures with no clear idea of what they will ultimately cost.

Providers rarely offer prices or price estimates to patients prior to service delivery. In fact, the percentage of hospitals that are not able to give consumers price estimates actually increased from 14 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2018, a recent JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed.

With patients expecting the ability to plan their expenses, providers are looking to implement new revenue cycle technologies that can deliver accurate cost estimates and boost overall healthcare price transparency.

“How do we give patients shoppable experiences, so they can find out the cost of an MRI?” asked Christy Martin, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Optum360. “In their local care market, where is the best place to go in terms of both quality and cost? Then, if they go to a certain location, what are they expected to pay based on their insurance coverage? What would the out-of-pocket costs be at this point in the year?”

Informing consumers of their patient financial responsibility before the point-of-service is critical for providers seeking to improve the patient financial experience.

“In the immediate future, one of the things that we can unlock using technology is an understanding upfront about what the payment responsibility will be, and have that help inform all of the things that happen subsequent to presenting that to the patient,” Hawkins said.

Providing price estimates up front helped one health system in Oklahoma increase point-of-service collections by $17 million in seven years.

The Consumer Priceline tool at INTEGRIS Health is a database of charges for most procedures and services. The health system also promises to deliver written price quotes to consumers within two days if the service is not already included in the database.

INTEGRIS may be seeing significant patient collection improvements using price estimates, but providers should be aware that databases like the Consumer Priceline tool require a wealth of historical financial data.

“In the immediate future, one of the things that we can unlock using technology is an understanding upfront about what the payment responsibility will be.”

Merely posting chargemaster prices for common services and procedures is not necessarily helpful for patients. Giving consumers information about their patient financial responsibility and out-of-pocket costs is supposed to prevent sticker shock. Yet chargemaster prices are primarily used to start negotiations with payers, and the numbers can seem exorbitant to consumers.

“Chargemaster prices serve only as a starting point; adjustments to these prices are routinely made for contractual discounts that are negotiated with or set by third-party payers. Few patients actually pay the chargemaster price,” the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HMFA) explained to policymakers in May 2018.

Despite reservations about chargemaster prices, CMS recently required hospitals to publish a list of their standard charges online. And providers are scrambling to understand how to present the information in a meaningful way to consumers.

About 92 percent of providers in a recent poll said they were concerned about the new hospital price transparency requirement, and the majority also expressed concerns about how the public would perceive their standard charges.

Now more than ever, revenue cycle technologies that aggregate and analyze information on what patients actually pay will be critical for health systems.

UNIFYING THE PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE

Healthcare is nothing like going grocery shopping. Not only do consumers not have access to prices, but the funding mechanism for medical services is also vastly different from a traditional retail experience.

Unlike what happens during a retail transaction, healthcare consumers rarely pay providers directly for services or procedures rendered. Instead, healthcare consumers use insurance plans, health savings accounts, and a wide range of other funding mechanisms to eventually pay providers after a service is delivered. They may also receive several bills and benefit documents from providers and insurers before receiving the final bill listing their financial responsibility.

As patients become more responsible for their healthcare spend, the onus is on providers to simplify the patient financial experience if they want to boost collections and save their bottom line.

Delivering a navigable and consistent financial experience is key to making the most of the newly consumer-driven environment, Polaris advised providers.

“The patient wants to have a clear and transparent journey through the healthcare system, and that’s much more challenging when they have to navigate different departments on different systems, asking for the same data over and over again, never coordinating, and never communicating a holistic end-to-end experience,” he said.

Integrated and seamless revenue cycle technologies aim to deliver a consistent patient financial experience by simplifying medical bills and bringing all providers in a practice, hospital, or health system under the same billing brand.

For example, a multi-specialty physician group in central Texas boosted patient collections by 24 percent and reduced the amount of patient cash sitting in A/R from 14 to two percent in one year by unifying the patient financial experience across their organization.

“Even though we were one clinic with 60 providers, our collection process treated every healthcare encounter separately,” explained Abilene Diagnostic Clinics CFO Andrew Kouba, CPA. “Patients were receiving bills for each physician they saw, which allowed them to pick and choose which bills to pay. When you get four statements and you think you got one experience, you’re confused as a patient.”

Consolidating all of Abilene’s providers under one billing system helped the group to deliver a consistent patient financial experience, which in turn simplified the payment process for consumers.

Revenue cycle departments are finding that end-to-end systems or interoperable bolt-on solutions are worth the investment. The integrated technologies allow healthcare organizations to guide the patient through the financial experience.

But to truly advance the patient financial experience, revenue cycle technology experts agreed that clinical and financial data integration is also vital.

“Being able to leverage the clinical and billing data to provide a better patient experience all the way around is a key capability,” Martin of Optum360 stated.

“While hospitals are certainly focused on providing high-quality care, there’s also this focus on how they can improve the overall patient financial experience to reduce the confusion, complexity, and lack of understanding around patient responsibility. Health systems are looking to provide ease of doing business to address patient responsibility and reduce patient bad debt.”

Revenue cycle technologies that can leverage both clinical and financial data are crucial to transforming the patient experience into a consumer-friendly encounter. Understanding the whole patient can help providers offer a consistent experience from the front office to the billing department.

SELF-SERVICE AS THE ULTIMATE PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE GOAL

Price transparency tools and integrated revenue cycle technologies lay the groundwork for a consistent, intuitive patient financial experience. But revenue cycle technology vendors are also observing an increased interest in self-service portals and kiosks for the ultimate retail-like experience.

The disjointed, manual processes involved in the patient financial experience have not been convenient for consumers. Patients often have to interact with a call center or sit down with a staff member to complete basic tasks like scheduling, filling out insurance forms, or paying a medical bill, Polaris explained. In other industries, these tasks have already been replaced by mobile apps or automated systems.

“With digital self-service, we automate tasks like they do in the airline industry,” he said. “We let the patient book an appointment right on their mobile phone, get all the paperwork, fill out the forms they need, and check in at a kiosk.”

“Automation takes repetitive tasks that are frankly not patient- or consumer-friendly out of the process and makes the whole healthcare experience much more satisfying,” he stressed.

Self-service portals and kiosks have the potential to truly transform the patient financial experience into a more convenient, navigable journey. But healthcare organizations would need to invest in large amounts of revenue cycle automation to achieve this goal, Polaris acknowledged.

“Automation takes a lot of forms,” he explained. “There’s always been robotics, user emulation, and basic automation to complete individual tasks. But very few organizations have driven automation of entire processes, and that’s where we’re seeing more investment in transformative automation.”

Healthcare consumers have already voiced their support for more self-service options and more automation. A recent survey of over 500 individuals showed that in addition to offering more payment options and sending simpler bills, expanding access to self-service tools was a top suggestion for improving the patient financial experience.

“Automation takes repetitive tasks that are frankly not patient- or consumer-friendly out of the process and makes the whole healthcare experience much more satisfying.”

Providers are also expressing interest in implementing the relatively new technology in the revenue cycle space. Kouba from Abilene Diagnostic Clinic in Texas said he wanted to create a type of Disney FastPass for the patient financial experience.

“We want to simplify the process from pre-registration through bill collection and try to automate that similar to Disney’s FastPass,” Kouba stated. “Disney is one of the best experiences of all time and when you go there, they want you to interact with the people, all their products, and just enjoy yourselves. The last thing Disney wants you to think of is the terrible lines.”

“If we can remove the pain points and strive to ease that front piece, the patient will be focused on a friendly conversation when they walk in the door with the person that can answer questions, rather than being pestered to pull out their wallet.”

However, Kouba is not convinced that full automation will take over the healthcare industry any time soon.

As much as adopting retail-style approaches can improve the patient financial journey, providers must still ensure their technologies and processes work for them, too.

For example, Kouba decided that self-service technology that automates scheduling is not ideal for Abilene.

“In our group, most of our physicians like to follow their patients to the hospital, so the difficult piece with self-scheduling, especially from the provider’s side, is their schedules depend on what their rounds look like for the day. It’s very difficult to get them to commit to blocks of time,” he continued.

Self-service and automated tools may still be maturing in the revenue cycle technology space. But providers still have the option to improve the patient financial experience through systems that estimate patient financial responsibility and unify the billing experience.

And providers should be looking to the revenue cycle technology market for help. The rise of patient financial responsibility has been steady. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs have been growing, particularly since healthcare spending growth rates rapidly accelerate.

Implementing the right tools for their patients and their providers will be key to empowering patients to choose the highest value care while ensuring providers get paid for it.