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Analysis

5 Dos and Don'ts of Patient Payment Plans

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   August 26, 2019

Cone Health's new offering illustrates some must-haves for hospital payment plans.

Cone Health in Greensboro, N.C., recently expanded its payment plan program to make it more flexible and available to all patients.

In addition to its own internal payment plan, Cone Health is partnering with the company AccessOne to offer longer-term options as well.

"By expanding our offerings, we're working to reduce the financial burden for our patients so they can focus on what's most important—their health," Mike Simms, Cone Health's vice president of revenue cycle, told HealthLeaders via email.

Simms cites an American Journal of Public Health study showing that "66.5% of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues and an estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills."

"By offering these plans, it mitigates the fear patients may have in how to pay for a procedure, which allows them to seek out care rather than delay care," he said. "More patients get the care they need, pay off their obligations, which in turn helps drive cash and reduce bad debt expense and experience."

Here are five key elements of Cone Health's new payment plan offering.

Do make it flexible: Thanks to the expansion, Cone Health now offers two options for patients.

Patients who agree to pay their balance in 12 months or less receive Cone Health's internal payment plan. Longer-term payment plans will be through AccessOne, which is available for all Cone Health medical bills, from hospitals to clinics.

"We believe that patients want to pay their healthcare obligations. Patients are now looking at healthcare as a consumer," Simms said.

"They expect to understand their obligation, have easy ways to pay for that obligation, and be able to have flexible terms that fit within their normal monthly budget. Patients are now reviewing multiple providers to compare costs and want to understand their options to pay."

Do make it long term: Depending on their account balance, patients can set up a payment schedule with no interest charged for up to three years.

"Having an extended payment plan that is consumer friendly is a competitive advantage for our health system," Simms said.

Don't make it dependent on credit worthiness: Thanks to this expansion, everyone qualifies for financing.

"Importantly, all of our patients qualify for this program, and there is no credit reporting or collection agency involved," Simms said.

"Patients and their family members can consolidate their balances into one monthly payment and have convenient consumer friendly ways to pay their balance."

Do make it zero-interest: "We have tried different types of patient financing options for our patients, both internal and external, 0% interest and low interest programs," Simms said.

"We recently decided to expand upon our 0% interest offerings with AccessOne, and now our patients can enjoy multiple options up to 36 months of 0% interest."

Do partner when it makes sense: Partnering with an outside company "can help offload the resources required to offer internal payment plans to patients, while simultaneously accelerating cash strategically," Simms said.

"Their programs comply with federal and state regulations for extending consumer credit."

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.


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