A few weeks ago a well known rap artist was arrested for using someone else’s name at an ER visit in order to avoid paying the bill. It really prompted me to wonder why someone making large sums of money would try to commit fraud to avoid paying a bill. Isn’t this the same as shoplifting? Is there a cultural shift in our society that looks at healthcare as a right? Does the debate for national healthcare contribute to this mindset? I know that major academic medical centers still write off patient accounts, do not send patients to collection agencies and continue to see patients with large overdue balances. So are we contributing to the impression that a healthcare bill is very different than an automobile repair bill? We may in fact be contributing to that cycle by charging patients that can pay (or their insurance) and writing off balances on those that can not.
I have never met a humanitarian auto mechanic. Very few mechanics are willing to place their customers on a payment plan and if they can not pay their bill, they would rather write off the balance than deny service. Those working in the healthcare industry realize that at the end of the day, we provide a service for the greater good. I have met some really wonderful people with great hearts. But I have also seen my share of closures, reductions and mergers due to poor financial performance.
So we tend to send mix signals to our patients. We are getting better at capturing information at point of care, electronic verification of coverage and many other tools to improve the revenue cycle. But are we ready to put up signs stating that “Shoplifters will be prosecuted?” Maybe healthcare is a right for some patients, a privilege for few and a service for all. But are we capable of meeting the needs of all?