AMA: 80% of docs have lost revenue amid disruptions from Change Healthcare cyberattack

Most physicians felt the disruption caused by the cyberattack on Change Healthcare, and many were still seeing the effects in early April, more than a month after the hacking was revealed, according to a new survey from the American Medical Association (AMA).

The informal survey polled (PDF) more than 1,400 individuals affiliated with the Federation of Medicine, a collective body of state medical associations and national specialty organizations. More than 77% of those surveyed said they experienced service disruptions beginning Feb. 21, when the cyberattack was first announced, and are still feeling those impacts.

More than a third (36%) said they saw claims payments suspended, and 32% said they have not been able to submit claims. In addition, 22% said they were not able to verify patients' eligibility for benefits, and 39% said they could not receive electronic remittance advice.

This has forced many physicians to adopt workarounds for basic functions, with 31% saying they've launched both manual and electronic workarounds to ensure claims are paid. Thirty-one percent also said they needed both manual and electronic workarounds to submit claims.

The disruptions have caused significant financial pain for these physicians, the survey found. Eighty percent said they have lost revenue because of unpaid claims, and 85% said that managing revenue cycle tasks in this environment required them to allocate additional staff and resources.

In a comment, one of the surveyed physicians said the "leading me to bankruptcy and I am just about out of cash," and another said they may choose to be acquired by a health system as they "just can’t bear the financial responsibility."

“The disruption caused by this cyberattack is causing tremendous financial strain,” said AMA President Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., in a press release. “These survey data show, in stark terms, that practices will close because of this incident, and patients will lose access to their physicians."

More than half of those surveyed (55%) said they have had to deploy personal funds to cover expenses at their practices. Forty-four percent said they could not purchase key supplies, and 31% of those surveyed said they would not be able to make payroll.

However, despite these pressures, just 15% of practices in the survey cut their office hours.

Beyond deploying their own money to cover costs, some of the surveyed docs did say they received outside financial assistance. Twelve percent said that came from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or Medicare, and less than 1% said they received assistance from a state Medicaid program.

UnitedHealth Group, which owns Change Healthcare, has advanced nearly $4.7 billion in payments to providers as of its latest update. A quarter of the surveyed physicians said they had received financial assistance from UHG, though just 4.5% said they had received similar support from other health insurers.

One physician said the disruption caused by the cyberattack led to an additional outlay of $50,000 for payroll, while another estimated that it led to $100,000 in "unexpected costs," according to the survey. One doctor said they had not taken a salary for a month while using their own personal funds to keep the doors open.

Ehrenfeld said the financial challenges caused by the cyberattack also align with a cut in Medicare payments, which poses a huge hurdle.

"The one-two punch of compounding Medicare cuts and inability to process claims as a result of this attack is devastating to physician practices that are already struggling to keep their doors open," he said.