Found out our local hospital is doing this now...
Last year, the Henry County Health Center in Iowa started providing patients with a cost estimate along with pre-surgery medical advice. The 25-bed rural hospital in the southwest corner of the state implemented the protocol because of mounting unpaid bills from insured patients, a group that had previously not raised red flags.
Henry County is one of hundreds of U.S. hospitals trying to cope with an unexpected consequence of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, known as Obamacare: millions more Americans have health insurance, but it requires them to spend thousands of dollars before their insurer kicks in a dime. Since U.S. hospitals do not want to end up footing the bill, they are now experimenting with pre-payment strategies for patients, with a growing number requiring payment before scheduled care and offering no interest loans, according to interviews with more than two dozen hospitals, doctors, patients, lenders and healthcare experts.
“Most patients are appreciative that we’re telling them up front,” said David Muhs, chief financial officer for the Henry County hospital, which provides a discount for early payment. The discussion leads some patients to skip care, others to delay it or use a no interest loans available through the hospital, he said. The ACA extended insurance to 20 million Americans, which initially helped hospitals begin to shrink debt from uninsured patients who could not pay their medical bills. But more and more, people in Obamacare plans or in employer-based health plans are choosing insurance that features low monthly payments. The trade-off is high out of pocket costs when they need care.
The trend is expected to accelerate this year because unpaid bills are creating massive bad debt for even the most prestigious medical centers. U.S. hospitals had nearly $36 billion in uncompensated care costs in 2015, according to the industry’s largest trade group, a figure that is largely made up of unpaid patient bills. Almost half of Americans – 45 percent - polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would have difficulty paying an unexpected $500 medical bill. The average deductible this year for the least expensive of the widely used Obamacare health plans is $6,000 for an individual - an 18 percent spike since 2014 - and more than double that for a family, according to government data.
Insight: Ballooning bills - More U.S. hospitals pushing patients to pay before care | Reuters