How to help patients who can’t afford medical care

How to help patients who can’t afford medical care

You’re not running a charity and you’re not a bank. But from time to time, you may find that it’s not only necessary, but also in the best interest of your practice to show compassion by offering free or reduced-cost care, extending payment terms, or putting patients in touch with agencies that can help them get the assistance they need.

The economy is in recovery mode, but many people all around the country are still underemployed, unemployed, or digging themselves out of deep holes as the result of financial setbacks. There are a number of options that healthcare practices have when faced with the challenge of taking care of patients who have limited financial means. Here are a few to consider.

If someone is temporarily unemployed and without insurance, but has been a longstanding patient for whom you wish to continue caring, consider offering reduced-cost office visits until they get back on their feet. People, especially those who have chronic health issues, need continuity of care. If being allowed to pay $10 – 25 per office visit for a few months running will keep them coming in to receive the attention they need, that’s a small price for your practice to pay to help someone maintain their health.

For individuals who take expensive medications on an ongoing basis, the financial reality they face at the pharmacy can be overwhelming. When deciding whether to pay the electric bill or get a prescription refilled, many patients will choose to keep the lights on. Check with your pharmaceutical representatives to get samples or discount coupons to give to patients.

Get to know what local health resources are available within your community so that you can refer patients appropriately. For example, there may be grant money through a non-profit organization for no- or low-cost mammograms, pap smears, and other preventive screenings. County health departments often provide services such as low-cost immunizations, free blood pressure checks, cardiovascular screening, maternal/child health services, and smoking cessation classes. Health departments are also helpful in assisting patients who may be eligible for Medicaid work through the maze of applying for benefits.

If a patient requires pricey diagnostic testing or hospitalization, refer them to the institution’s patient advocate who can help them navigate financial policies, including setting up payment plans, receiving non-insured patient discounts, and applying for financial assistance.

For patients who have an existing balance with your practice that has built up over time for whatever reason, if it doesn’t appear there is any chance they’ll be able to pay it in the foreseeable future, your best option might be to simply write it off. It may be tempting in this situation to offer to reduce the balance in exchange for payment in full, but keep in mind that if a patient takes you up on that offer and pays with a credit card, they’re likely putting themselves in even further financial jeopardy. If you do choose to write off a balance due, make it clear to the patient that this is a one-time courtesy intended to help relieve their current financial burden. Another alternative is to write off a portion of the balance in exchange for the patient agreeing to a weekly or monthly payment plan.