HFMA releases best practices for medical debt collection

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) released a list of best practices for collecting and resolving outstanding medical debts.

The HFMA, which refers to the issue as "medical account resolution," formulated the best practices in cooperation with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals.

The best practices include:

  • Offering financial counseling and clear communications for any patient or family member who visits the emergency department after the patient is stabilized;
  • Providing clear communication of financial obligations to any patient undergoing an elective procedure; and 
  • Training for all healthcare personnel who engage in financial discussions with patients.

Furthermore, if an organization reports a patient to a credit bureau for an overdue bill, providers should also report back to the bureau when the patient resolves the debt. Providers should also have a toll-free number that patients can call to receive information about their bills and their options, as well as to receive and resolve any consumer complaints. Finally, each year providers should review the technology they have in place to determine patient insurance eligibility and obligation.

"These best practices provide a much-needed blueprint for hospitals, physicians and our partners in account resolution to coordinate their activities in ways that respect and benefit patients," said HFMA Chief Executive Officer Joseph Fifer in a statement. "Patients want information that is timely, clear, and concise and deserve a consistent, fair process for resolving payment issues."

The HFMA has been grappling with how to clarify the patient charge and collection issue. Last summer, it convened a price transparency task force and drafted patient financial interaction guidelines.

More recently, the Internal Revenue Service issued guidelines that not-for-profit hospitals must cease "extraordinary" debt collection--including referring a patient account to a collection agency--unless the entity can demonstrate that the patient does not qualify for financial assistance, according to Forbes.

To learn more:
- read the HFMA guidelines
- here's the HFMA statement 
- check out the Forbes article