Free EMR Newsletter Want to receive the latest news on EMR, Meaningful Use, ARRA and Healthcare IT sent straight to your email? Join thousands of healthcare pros who subscribe to EMR and EHR for FREE!

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.

A Rosa Parks for EMRs

Posted on May 7, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

From the Healthcare blog, this week there’s a super interesting post on Regina Holliday, a widow turned patient rights advocate.

First some background about Holliday: She’s a widow with young kids, her husband Fred died after weeks of suffering from from cancer. She is now taking her patients’ rights advocacy before the American Heart Association by protesting the lag in how soon patients can see their medical records. Holliday’s personal experiences inform her protest.

From the post:

When [Hollidays] sought access to [Fred’s] electronic medical record, the hospital responded by saying “we must wait 21 days and pay 73 cents per page to see the story of his care. Then they told us we could go home to die.”

Per Meaningful Use Stage 1 guidelines, patient records must be made available within 4 days. Holliday is asking for access within 24 hours. American Hospital Association (AHA) in all its wisdom is asking for 30 day lag.

The one issue I don’t see addressed either by Holliday nor by Michael Millenson in his post is the question of cost. Who will bear the cost of making records available immediately? Will it roll downhill to the patient, or become a shared cost between patient and provider? Still I hope Holliday succeeds, it is a radical idea worth pondering over.

Health IT Expenses Burden ACO Startups, But CMS Doesn’t Get It

Posted on May 16, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she’s served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new study sponsored by the American Hospital Association has concluded that developing an Accountable Care Organization is likely to be substantially more expensive than CMS has projected.  Not surprisingly, the AHA expects buying and managing EMRs and clinician decision support systems to be a major percentage of the added expense.

CMS has estimated it will cost an average of $1.8 million to start and sustain an ACO.  But the AHA dismisses that number as far short of the mark. Its own research, conducted by McManis Consulting, concluded that the actual startup and first-year costs for ACOs range from $11.6 million for a 200-bed, one-hospital system to $26.1 million for a 1,200 bed,  five-hospital system.

The AHA estimates that hospitals will spend anywhere from $2 million to $7 million to buy an EMR, and hundreds of thousands to integrate the system and build a health information exchange.  Not only that, health systems are likely to spend anywhere from $1.5 million to $3.9 million per year to maintain the EMR, manage the integration process and keep building out the HIE.  (My instinct is that the study’s estimates of systems integration and HIE linkages are rather low;  check out page two of the report and let me know what you think.)

If the AHA has it right — and I suspect it does — something is out of order here.  It’s hard for me to imagine how the agency could underestimate health IT costs so significantly, unless there’s some political game afoot here.

I’m not surprised to read that HIT costs are just as heavy a burden as recruiting, managing and and supporting affiliated physicians.  And I’m pretty sure that hospital CIOs aren’t kidding themselves on this front either.

Somehow, though, the Medicare folks have made some rather flawed assumptions and embedded them in the proposed  Medicare Shared Savings Program for ACOs.  If you agree that CMS is on the wrong foot here, I encourage you to submit comments on the proposed rule.  (See the beginning of the document for how to file those comments.) You have until June 6, so have at it!