The U.S. healthcare system needs more skills for paying bills, study shows

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paying healthcare billsArticle from LA Times
By Karen Kaplan
FEB 20, 2018

Healthcare in the United States is really expensive, and one of the reasons is that managing healthcare bills is really, really expensive.

Just how expensive? At one large academic medical center, the cost of collecting payments for a single primary-care doctor is upward of $99,000 a year.

And billing for primary-care visits is a bargain compared with billing for trips to the emergency room, a hospital stay or a surgical procedure, according to a report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Researchers from Duke University and Harvard Business School figured this out by reconstructing the entire life cycle of a medical bill — from the time a patient makes an appointment until the time the health system pockets the money for the services rendered. They applied their analysis to five types of “patient encounters,” as they put it.

Members of the research team conducted 27 interviews with people involved at various points in the billing process to understand every single step along the way. They also surveyed 34 doctors to understand their billing-related activities, such as submitting prior authorization requests to health insurance companies.

Once they had mapped out the entire billing process, they used salary information from the medical center to determine the cost of carrying out each step. They also added in overhead costs such as office equipment and utility bills.
These were the results:

  • It cost $20.49 to get paid for a typical primary-care visit, and took 13 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $61.54 to get paid for a typical trip to the emergency room, and took 32 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $124.26 to get paid for a typical hospital stay, and took 73 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $170.40 to get paid for a typical outpatient surgical procedure, and took 75 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $215.10 to get paid for a hospitalization that required surgery, and took 100 minutes of processing time.

If those numbers aren’t enough to make you sick, consider this: For most healthcare providers, the true costs of billing are probably higher — perhaps much higher.

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Submitted by:
Stephen Bradley
First Citizens Bank
stephen.bradley@firstcitizens.com
404-840-4247

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