Increasingly, Physician Practices Paying Fees To Receive Electronic Payments

Posted on October 13, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Virtually no one would argue that health plan reimbursement levels are particularly high. Adding a fee if they want to get paid electronically seems like adding insult to injury, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, one in six medical practices report being hit with these charges, according to research by the Medical Group Management Association. Its recent survey found that some practices are paying a meaningful percentage of total medical services payments to get paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT).

Under rules created by the Affordable Care Act, designed to decrease healthcare administrative overhead, CMS created a standard for EFT transactions. Health plans have been required to offer EFT payments if providers request it since 2014.

Health plans’ payment policies seem to vary, however. A recent MGMA Stat poll, which generated responses from more than 900 medical practice leaders, found that while 50% of practices were not paying fees for receiving payments via EFT, others are absorbing big surcharges.

For one thing, health plans are increasingly offering practices a “virtual credit card” they can use to receive payments. While 32% of MGMA respondents said they weren’t sure whether they paid an electronic payments fee or not, other research suggests that many practices end up using virtual credit cards without knowing they would be charged 3-5% per payment received.

Meanwhile, 17% of respondents told MGMA they were definitely paying transaction fees, and of that group, almost 60% said that the health plans in question used a third-party payment vendor.

MGMA sees this as little short of highway robbery. “Some bad actors are fleecing physician groups by charging them to simply receive an electronic paycheck,” said Anders Gilberg, MGMA’s senior vice president for government affairs.

The MGMA is asking CMS to issue guidance preventing health plans and payment vendors from charging EFT-related fees. The group argues that such fees are counter to the goal of reducing healthcare administrative complexity, the stated purpose of requiring health plans to offer EFT payments.

Also, the American Hospital Association and NACHA, the electronic payments association, are asking CMS to set standards on when and how health plans can implement virtual cards, as well as making it easy for practices to move to EFT.

The imposition of fees is particularly unfair given that health plans benefit significantly from issuing EFT payments, the group says. For one thing, health insurers save millions of dollars by sending payments via EFT, MGMA notes. Not only that, sending payments via EFT allows health plans to automate the re-association of electronic payments with the Electronic Remittance Advice.

While it’s true that physician practices used to save time staff would’ve used to manually process and deposit paper checks, that doesn’t make the fees okay, the group argues. “Beyond the material administrative time savings for all sides, the time and resources that physician practices spend on billing and related tasks are better spent delivering healthcare to patients,” it said in a prepared statement.