By Patrick Creagh, Marketing SpecialistHIX250

The March 31 enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act is quickly approaching, and even with a government extension at hand for some, one thing is quite certain.

Come April, millions of newly insured patients will be in the healthcare system, with confirmation that enrollments on the healthcare insurance exchanges (HIX) will surpass 6 million by next Monday.  Despite an initial slow start, signup numbers quickly accelerated following an aggressive campaign from the Obama administration targeted at younger adults, including a string of television commercials, appearances, even a touted performance on popular internet show Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

While the White House will certainly be relieved to see the last-minute spike in enrollments, healthcare providers are understandably concerned about this sudden influx of new patients, particularly with higher proportion of patients insured under high-deductible health plans.

Given the decades-long incumbency of co-pay-focused plans with low-deductibles, the transition to HIX coverage could be difficult for patients who could be faced with more healthcare costs than they can afford after just a single hospital visit. Adding to this concern is that almost half of new enrollees lack a basic understanding of health insurance- a recent survey of ACA shoppers revealed that 42% could not accurately describe a deductible.

To mitigate patient confusion at your facility, here are 3 ways to help newly insured patients:

Help patients understand their financial obligations

This is a must for healthcare providers.  The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) recently released a guide to patient billing best practices outlining specific ways to engage patients before and after an episode of care.  Patients with higher deductibles especially will seek out pricing estimation whenever possible, so consider the tools you have to offer.  Ensure your statements explain the charges and insurance contribution in un-complicated terms.  Offer financial counseling when appropriate.

Give patients tools to manage their expenses

In the Internet age, it’s easy for a paper statement to get lost in the mail or forgotten.  An online bill pay portal is crucial for collecting prompt payments from millennials while many senior patients are more familiar with an Integrated Voice Recognition (IVR) phone service to make a payment.  Offering payment plans and prompt pay discounts will incentivize patients to take care of their expenses instead of waiting to be collected on.

Empathize with patients

We are all patients at some point of our lives.  We all understand the financial and emotional stress that comes from healthcare issues, so don’t be afraid to show that understanding to your patients (in a HIPAA-compliant manner, of course).

Newly insured patients aren’t the only ones who can benefit from these strategies; all of your patients will be better off with a greater understanding of their medical expenses and you will see customer satisfaction increase accordingly.  The government has taken an important first step in providing coverage options to these patients; it’s now up to providers to help them make the most of them.