Helping Patients Understand Their Options
I'm Penny Hauffe and I work in patient accounts at the Brookings Health System. My job here at the hospital is to assist patients in understanding their statements and understanding the billing system that we have, in understanding their insurance and their estimated benefits, and helping them figure out a way to pay for their health care.
What is Patient Financial Services?
Part of it is helping people figure out ways to pay their bills. The other part is sort of the financial services, which is setting up payment plans, helping people with financial assistance, helping them figure out...sometimes it's been for me whether they can afford to have a procedure done now or where they will want to wait for insurance to come. We have options in our office. And that's what I tell every single person that I see when I come up here is when you start to get statements from us, bring them in, you get a whole bunch of paperwork, you don't know what it means, you might get letters from the insurance department asking for additional insurance. If you feel overwhelmed with that, and don't know what to do with it, just load it all up and bring it into us. And we can sit down, go through it all, I can pull up on one screen all of what you've had done, and then we can look at it together. And that's really the most gratifying part of what we do, is that we can help people get through that and not just feel overwhelmed.
How can patients receive a cost estimate for their care?
We can have patients come to us ahead of time when they need to have a basic procedure done that we can give an estimate about what the cost of it may be. And we can get together with the biller, find out sort of where their insurance would fall in that and give them an idea of what their out of pocket may be at the end. It's not going to be exact, but we can do an estimate, then prepare them for what they may need to pay so that they know that they can come in and talk to us when it's done. And we'll figure out how to pay their portion.
Why do you visit with patients while they are staying at the hospital?
I see...personally I see our goal when we come up here is just to give people a touchstone in the business office, to give them a face and a name, to give them a phone number to call so that they don't have to get out and be healing, and trying to recover and then trying to call a general business office number and maybe not getting the same person every time. Our phones go to different people. So this way, they have a direct person that they can call, we just want them to feel like there's somebody that they know, that they can walk in and they can say, I don't know what to do with this? Or how do I pay this? Or has my insurance paid? Or do you have my insurance information, all those questions that can just come up.
How do you help patients with Medicare or commercial insurance?
I think that we do a fair amount of helping people understand Medicare now. You know that there are deductibles, there are co-insurances with Medicare. talking with people a lot about supplements, what supplements are good, what you want to...how they help with things. We have a lot of people on fixed incomes that really, really need to understand their insurance as they get older. So we talk with them a lot about that. And we call the billers in to help with that. You know, in our office, we don't always understand everything about insurance. But I can call any one of the billers that handles that specific insurance and they will come and sit down and really help go through the details with patients. So that's a huge asset for us is to have them. Regular insurance, you know, we do the same thing, we go through with them to their estimate of benefits, we help them go through the details, make sure that insurance is paid the way that it's supposed to pay, make sure that insurance pays everything that it's supposed to pay, and then we help them with the payment plans afterwards.
How do you help patients without insurance or who cannot afford their medical bills?
The first thing that I do is I will look at what their bill is. And I'll give them an idea of what the parameters are that the hospital would like them to pay that bill in, whether it's a year or two years, or you know how long they would have to pay it over what those payments would be. If they cannot possibly do those payments, then we start to look at financial assistance. And we do a completely income-based financial assistance 99% of the time.
What should patients do if they are concerned about paying their bill?
One of two things, either call us or walk in the door and come and see us. Doors are always open. One of us will be here 99.9% of the time, and we're happy to meet with anybody, you do not need an appointment.
How do you help prevent bills from going to collections?
As soon as you receive a statement from us, as soon as you see a statement, you call, call, ask for patient accounts, have us pull up all of your accounts, take a look at them. And then we can help you work on them. Let you know what's through insurance, what's not through insurance. What you need to pay on. And as long as we have that conversation going, as long as you're calling and we're setting things up, we can keep you out of collections. It is important to us for people to have a safe place that they can come talk about what's happening with their finances at the hospital. So that's how we see our offices is that you can come in, you can sit down and bring all your paperwork, we can help you go through it. We're not going to be judgmental. Life happens to people in all kinds of ways and things get in the way. Trauma happens to your life and problems come up. That's for us to help you figure out. So we really want people to come in and talk with us.
Why does Brookings Health System offer Patient Financial Services?
Because it's the right thing to do. It's what you do for people when they need to have medical care. You do everything you can to make sure that they get the treatment that they need, and that we do our part to try and make it as affordable as possible.