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Morphing health care scene prompting dire debt forecasts

Many people in Texas have little wiggle room when it comes to finances. Very often the amount of revenue they are able to bring in is just enough to meet the needs of daily life. It can mean a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

Even those with health care coverage can find that an extraordinary medical event in their lives leaves them suddenly under water financially. Almost in the blink of an eye, they are facing a massive bill that was never anticipated. Filing for protection through bankruptcy is one option that may be viable for recovering financial tranquility. 

The sensitivity of this particular issue is not lost on those in the health care financing industry. They know that as pay scales for health care shift more of the cost burden to individual consumers, the threat of people slipping into insolvency is only going to get worse. So they are starting to look for solutions. Of course, that some state legislatures and Congress are also considering imposing solutions doesn't hurt.

How to address the medical debt issue was the focus recently at the annual conference of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. What members concluded was that they and providers need to do a better job of engaging with patients in the early stages of a care encounter.

What they've come up with is a new set of guidelines for health care finance managers to follow that involve working with patients up front to be sure they understand what their cost obligations are going to be. The hope is that by providing that support and being transparent about costs that situations that wind up going to debt collections can be avoided.

Orlando Health COO Thomas Yoesle said in an interview that the same tenet of "first do no harm" that is supposed to be applied in the clinical setting should also apply to health care financing. He said the onus is on health systems to help patients navigate those systems so that they don't come to financial harm because of a lack of understanding over what's covered and what's not.

Source: Modernhealthcare.com, "HFMA looks at solutions to patients' medical-debt burdens," Gregg Blesch, June 19, 2013; Modernhealthcare.com, "Video News: More bad debt ahead?," Beth Kutscher, June 27, 2013

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