Offer help to patients with high deductibles

Communicate ‘early and often’

If it seems like you are seeing increasing numbers of patients with high-deductible health plans, it’s not your imagination.

Employers spent 4.1% more money on health benefits for employees in 2012 than in 2011, which is the smallest increase in 15 years, according to an analysis of 2,809 companies conducted by Mercer, a global consulting firm. However, the employers contained costs mainly by switching employees to high-deductible health plans, with enrollment increasing from 13% of covered employees in 2011 to 16% in 2012. The number of surveyed employers offering the plans rose from 17% to 22%.

“We are absolutely seeing more patients who have higher deductibles, co-pays, and reduced benefits,” says Darlene Powell, CHAM, patient access manager at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, MI.

The hospital’s patient access leaders assembled a Financial Advocate Team for the purpose of helping patients and families with high-deductible plans, such as educating them about their options.

“We reduce their fears and help them make better choices about how they will pay for their care,” says Powell. “Our approach is to meet with patients as early in the process as possible, face-to-face.”

Go directly to patients

“We’ve improved customer service by not depending on patients and families to seek us out for answers to their financial questions,” says Powell. “We make it convenient by coming to them where they are.”

Financial Advocate Team members carry laptops to patient care units and the emergency department, so they can start the process immediately. “This enables us to share information and process paperwork on the spot, so patients are qualified for financial assistance as quickly as possible,” says Powell.

Patients can also meet with financial advocates by visiting the Advocacy Office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. “We are considering expanding our office hours as well as the time staff spend rounding on the units,” says Powell.

Patient access leaders developed an online training course on point-of-service collections that staff members are required to complete. “The training guides staff through the collections process and offers scripting to help patients and families understand payment options and expectations,” says Powell.

When patients with high-deductible plans are scheduled for admission, “communicating early and often helps everyone in the long run,” says Powell. “During patient scheduling, we inform them of potential out-of-pocket costs and discuss this again at the time of pre-registration.”


For more information on helping patients with high-deductible plans, contact:

Darlene Powell, CHAM, Patient Access, Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo, MI. Phone: (269) 341-8640. Email: