By Patrick Creagh, Marketing Specialisthfmablog

For decades, patient payments were a hospital revenue afterthought, comprising less than 10 percent of total revenues. Then the Affordable Care Act changed the way many health plans are designed, increasing that figure into the 20s and 30s.

This fall, employees will be signing up for more high-deductible health plans than ever before– and that number will only continue to increase. Providers already know they must reform their patient billing processes if they want to remain financially stable in the long term.

But there’s another reason.

Bloomberg Businessweek recently published an article called, “Why Hospitals Want Patients to Pay Upfront.” Besides referencing the indisputable evidence that patient financial responsibility is increasing, the article captures a revealing quote from a hospital’s patient finance counselor: “Sometimes you are talking to them about the biggest thing in their life.”

She’s absolutely right.

When we aggregate patient payments into a category that pales in comparison to revenue from Medicare and third-party payers, it’s easy to forget that there are patients who receive bills for tens of thousands (and in some cases, even hundreds of thousands) of dollars, and very likely it IS the biggest thing in their life.

This is, of course, after you account for the reason the patient is in the hospital in the first place, which could easily be unexpected or life threatening.

Only 14% of patients correctly understand their insurance. The majority of Americans report receiving confusing medical bills. If you were on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars, wouldn’t you want every opportunity to understand why and how you can pay?

Patients are now seeking out hospitals that offer payment plans, prompt-pay discounts, clear and concise statements because they now understand that they will be responsible for making informed financial decisions about their healthcare. Providers who neglect to implement these consumer-standard practices will find it difficult to retain patients who literally cannot afford not to understand their bills.

This coming enrollment season, consider implementing patient-friendly upgrades to your billing process.