What Medical Providers Need to Know About the Future of Medicare Advantage

Future of Medicare AdvantageWith Medicare Advantage enrollment continuing to rise and more plans offering more benefits than ever, big changes are coming in 2021. This post will discuss the key changes to Medicare Advantage plans in the next year, program updates due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and advice on how to navigate billing and reimbursement concerns.

For the first time in history, Medicare Advantage (MA) penetration has reached 40% of the total Medicare-eligible population. Currently, 25.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, with a total Medicare-eligible population of 62.4 million, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). [ Link to report ]

With an aging population, enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans will only continue to grow (The Congressional Budget Office projects enrollment in these plans to rise to about 51% by 2030).

Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare that acts as an all-in-one health plan and is sold by private insurers. All Medicare Advantage plans must provide at least the same level of coverage as original Medicare, but they may impose different rules, restrictions, and costs. Most Advantage plans offer the same A and B coverage for the same monthly premium as regular Medicare plans, but also often include Part D prescription drug coverage, limited vision, and dental care, broader coverage, lower premiums, maximum out-of-pocket limits, and extra benefits—all of which expanded in 2020.

While this represents a distinct opportunity for many providers to be more profitable, growing enrollment also poses challenges. Medicare beneficiaries have more choice than ever before when it comes to selecting an MA plan.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), there are 3,148 Medicare Advantage plans available for individual enrollment for the 2020 plan year—an increase of 414 plans since 2019. The average beneficiary could choose among 28 plans in 2020. While the choice is great for the beneficiary, it adds complexity to healthcare providers’ revenue cycles, who need to navigate hurdles that vary by the plan in order to get reimbursed.

MA plans also tend to be more transient, meaning patients may switch often, even yearly if they choose through the open enrollment period. Providers must better manage every patient accordingly so they can maximize plan benefits. Doing so takes more effort, but the payoff can lead to profit.

CMS has clearly stated a goal to move from the current fee-for-service models toward value-based care. While the Medicare Advantage population grew by 60% from 2013 to 2019, the fee-for-service Medicare population only grew by 5%. The progress Medicare Advantage plans have achieved essentially creates an idea marketplace for beneficiaries. Enrollment costs are down and more plans than ever are offering new, innovative benefits. But what does this mean for providers?

So, how has COVID-19 affected Medicare Advantage plans? Well, the COVID-19 stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, includes $100 billion in new funds for hospitals and other healthcare entities. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made $30 billion of these funds available to healthcare providers based on their share of total Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursements in 2019, resulting in higher payments to hospitals in some states than others, according to KFF. Hospitals in states with higher shares of Medicare Advantage enrollees may have lower FFS reimbursement overall. As a result, some hospitals and other healthcare entities may be reimbursed less than they would if the allocation of funds considered payments received on behalf of Medicare Advantage enrollees.

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, many Medicare Advantage insurers waived cost-sharing requirements for COVID-19 treatment, meaning that Medicare Advantage beneficiaries will not have to pay cost-sharing if they require hospitalization due to COVID-19 (though they would if they are hospitalized for other reasons).

If a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available to the public, Medicare is required to cover it under Part B with no cost-sharing for traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan beneficiaries, based on a provision in the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

 

A Spotlight on Prior Authorization
Medicare Advantage plans can require enrollees to receive prior authorization before service will be covered, and nearly all Medicare Advantage enrollees (99%) are in plans that require prior authorization for some services in 2020, according to KFF. Prior authorization is most often required for relatively expensive services, such as inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility stays, and Part B drugs, and is infrequently required for preventive services. Prior authorization can create barriers for providers and beneficiaries, but it’s meant to prevent patients from getting services that are not medically necessary, thus reducing costs for beneficiaries and insurers.

In a 2018 analysis, KFF found that four out of five MA enrollees—or 80%—are in plans that require prior authorization for at least one Medicare-covered service. More than 60% of MA plan enrollees require prior authorization before receiving home health services, and that percentage increases to more than 70% for skilled nursing facility and inpatient hospital stays.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) prohibits the use of prior authorization or other utilization management requirements for these services. A significant number of Medicare Advantage plans have waived prior authorization requirements for individuals needing treatment for COVID-19.

 

How Providers Can Prepare for a Medicare Advantage Boom
Medicare beneficiaries have more choice than ever before when it comes to selecting a MA plan. While the choice is great for the beneficiary, it adds complexity to healthcare providers’ revenue cycle. Healthcare providers will need to navigate new hurdles that vary by the MA plan in order to get reimbursed.

When beneficiaries change plans, it creates another challenge for providers. Historically, about 10% of MA enrollees change plans during open enrollment. Although this number seems low, even a small change in coverage can cause big problems for a healthcare provider’s revenue and cash flow. Billing the wrong insurance company leads to costly denials and appeals. Becker’s Hospital Review estimates that healthcare providers spend about $118 per claim on appeals. A study by the Medical Group Management Association found that the cost to rework a denied claim is approximately $25, and more than 50% of denied claims are never reworked.

Despite the challenges, providers don’t want to be left out of the MA boom. But how can they best prepare? Well, first off, healthcare providers need to ensure they are capturing accurate patient information. Next, they need to reevaluate workflows, so they are prepared to handle time-consuming prior authorizations. Additionally, healthcare organizations must consider how frequently they are re-running eligibility on patient rosters to make certain they do not miss a change in insurance coverage for patients under their care. Providers should re-run patient rosters monthly, so they have the most accurate benefit information. This will help them avoid unnecessary claim denials.

As MA continues to ramp up, the most successful providers will be those who work with a revenue cycle management partner that understands the nuances of Medicare reimbursement as well as the added complexities of MA.

With the acquisition of eSolutions, a leader in revenue cycle technology with Medicare-specific solutions, EZClaim’s ‘partner’, Waystar, so happens to be the first technology to unite commercial, government, and patient payments into a single platform, solving a major challenge and creating meaningful efficiencies. Billing Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and commercial claims from a single platform eliminates the hassle of managing multiple revenue cycle platforms and allows providers to get deeper AI-generated insights for faster reimbursement and increased value—for their organizations and their patients.

 

For more information about Waystar‘s platform, visit their website, or give them a call at 844.492.9782. To find out more about EZClaim‘s medical billing software, visit their website, e-mail their support team, or call them at 877.650-0904.

[ Article contributed by Waystar ]

5 Things Medical Practices Need to Get Right in 2021


There are five primary medical practice fundamentals that, if focused on, will ensure your practice is working toward goals that will make the biggest difference. Practices are pulled in many directions each day, and it can be difficult to know what to prioritize, so the following are some recommendations.

1) Define Patient Engagement Goals
Perhaps one of the most overused terms in today’s medical field is “patient engagement.” Much like the drawer filled with important yet miscellaneous items, if you can’t actually define it, you probably aren’t going to do something with it.

In 2021, it is imperative to define your office’s patient engagement goals in order to determine whether they are being met, and more importantly, if the value you’ve placed on engagement is benefitting your bottom line. This could include engaging via a more personal checkout process that explains how billing and payment will be done and asking patients if there are certain times of the year they wish to be notified for annual wellness checks.

2) Ask For Online Reviews
Reviews remain one of the highest drivers of new customer acquisition. As a local business, you can create a Google Business account online that provides your address, phone number, and link to your website. Included is the ability to add reviews as well as phrases and keywords about your business within the Google Business dashboard, and it’s all free!

To encourage your patients to leave reviews, create cards with step-by-step instructions for posting online reviews via Google. Be picky. Make sure you ask your best patients to participate, who will be honored that you asked. Don’t forget to monitor to see how your business listing looks to potential new patients.

3) Offer Friendly Medical Bills
Of course, we’re not suggesting you add flowers or poignant sayings. Rather, explain a statement to your patients at checkout or within their financial package; this helps the process flow more naturally. BillFlash patient statements have five different messaging rows you can customize for communication. Plus, you can also send electronic patient statements through text and email.

In 2021, communication with patients—even on billing statements—should be natural, friendly, and simple. Getting paid is a segment of the medical practice workflow and should be as easy and frictionless as possible.

4) Ask About Payment Preferences
People are driven by routine and behavior. In today’s world, when paying for an item, the buyer is offered numerous options including cash, debit and credit, no-interest, pay-over-time plans, payment apps, or even Near Field Communication (NFC) like Apple and Google Pay. Granted, the last two have had very low adoption rates, but keeping an eye on payment trends costs little more than time and may add something unexpected to your bottom line.

In 2021, identifying the preferred patient payment options could be the difference between getting paid quickly and not getting paid at all. Don’t overlook the enormous value people place on how they give and take money.

5) Use RCM Services
An RCM vendor helps you get the most out of your practice revenue. They help you collect more from difficult balances, empower patients to pay in full, and improve your claims processing—without adding extra work for your office staff. Working with the right RCM services provider ensures you are paid more for the work you do. They also help identify reasons for claims denials, which have a positive impact on your practice revenue, as well.

 

For more information about automated patient statements and patient payment options, contact EZClaimNexTrust BillFlashGetPaid@BillFlash.com, or call BillFlash at 435.940.9123 (Option 3). For more details about EZClaim’s medical billing software, visit their website, e-mail their support team, or call them at 877.650.0904.

Medical Billing Service Has Used EZClaim for Over 15 Years

Medical Billing ServiceDeborah Rieser founded Spectrum Medical Billing Services in Anchorage, Alaska 15 years ago to make extra money to help with paying the family’s bills. Today, she owns a thriving medical billing service with a team of “twelve lovely ladies”—as she likes to refer to them—that services clients nationwide. Rieser originally selected EZClaim’s medical billing software platform—because of its pricing structure—to use for her medical billing service.

Over the years, since her original purchase, she has upgraded to each new EZClaim version, which adding new features and efficiencies.  Recently, she has made the transition to EZClaim Cloud, and continues to use it exclusively today.

With team members nationwide, Rieser prides herself on training her billers on properly classifying billing for medical offices so that there are minimal insurance denials. She is very particular about this since one of the reasons Deborah began billing was the insurance qualification struggles she had for her daughter with Autism. So, accurate billing is ‘personal’.

Recently, we found time to interview Rieser about her start in the industry, the ups and downs of being a business owner, and what hard-fought expertise she has gained that might help others considering to start their own medical billing service. 

EZCLAIM: When did you get into the medical billing industry and why?
RIESER: “I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I had an orchid business out of our house. Then my daughter, who was born with Autism, started working with an Occupational Therapist (OT),  and they came to me to help with billing. I thought about it, and after a few weeks, I took it on. That was back in 2005.

“At that time, my daughter had over 75 volunteers and therapists in the community work with her from age three to age five, and had 50-60 hours a week of therapy. Today, she is a sophomore in  university, has a boyfriend, is driving her car, and is thriving. From all of that, I have always felt the need to give back to the community for all their help. So, I used my business to take on other Pediatric, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy clients, as well as, using my experience to help patients take care of their billing needs and get their bills paid by insurance.”

EZCLAIM: What are you passionate about when it comes to billing?
RIESER: “For me, the biggest thing that I am passionate about is seeing my clients [medical offices] getting paid from insurance claims. I also enjoy helping patients get properly classified during medical visits, so claims are accepted. I have learned a lot from the mistakes and errors that have led to denied claims. From my experience, I can help medical practices observe their approach to patients’ needs so that services qualify when billing insurance companies. Being able to offer that to my clients is very satisfying.”

EZCLAIM: What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome?
RIESER: “Originally, we grew word-of-mouth. I didn’t even want a website at first, but now I do have one. Going from one client to 65 is challenging because as your clients grow, your staff grows. Recently, I lost a client. You then have to decide what you’re going to do with your staff. The hardest part is that, for a business owner, your business consistently goes up and down. That fluctuation can be stressful. For me, I deal with that by going outdoors. My husband and I will go for a walk in nature and that will help relieve my stress.”

EZCLAIM: What advice would you offer others in the billing industry that have similar experiences?
RIESER: “If you’re starting your own business, make sure it’s one you love. Know that there will always be highs and lows. Also, be sure to price yourself accordingly. You can’t go too high or people will look elsewhere.

“I do want to step back and highlight that some of my billing practices only do 2-3 claims a week, and that’s why I love EZClaim. The price of the software. When I was growing, I was working on EZClaim “Advance,” which is being retired. So, when I started looking around at other software providers, they were billed on a ‘per provider cost.’ Fortunately, EZClaim “Cloud” billed based on the number of concurrent users, which worked for me.” 

EZCLAIM: How has your relationship with AMBA (American Medical Billing Association) benefitted you?
RIESER: “I just joined last year in 2019, thanks to EZClaim and Dan Loch’s referral. I love that group. I joined their Facebook group because they have very useful information for us billers. I recommended that my team members join as well. They are good at supporting US-based companies and put the focus on supporting the group.”

EZCLAIM: What would you tell people who are wondering if EZClaim Cloud is right for them?
RIESER: “The transition to EZClaim Cloud was easy. I was worried about the providers and the tax ID’s, but it all was very smooth. I would add that customer support was very helpful. As daunting as moving things over felt, it was very smooth. I attribute that to the planning and support.”

EZCLAIM: What would you say would be a strength of someone who is good at billing and coding?
RIESER: “It is important to be a very good communicator, professional, out-going, and enjoy what you do. One must be able to communicate with providers over denials, success, celebrations, and always keep talking with the staff and the providers. Also, always try to put yourself in the patients’ shoes by offering patience and compassion. Lots of times patients don’t understand their benefits and why they are denied. So, try to explain in layman’s terms. They understand better and appreciate that. It ends up being a good connection with the patient, and benefits you as the biller, too.”

EZCLAIM: Final thoughts?
RIESER: “I am grateful to EZClaim for their services.  As a business owner, you have to monitor expenses and things can add up fast. So, I am thankful for EZClaim Cloud and its pricing structure. That has helped Spectrum Medical Billing Services to grow and thrive.”

[ The above answers were paraphrased as closely as possible to the original answers given by Deborah Rieser on November 25, 2020 ].


ABOUT EZCLAIM:
EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support. Combined, they help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit EZClaim’s website, e-mail them, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.

Life Cycle of a Medical Bill (Revenue Cycle 101)

Life Cycle of a Medical BillThere are five ‘phases’ in the life cycle of a medical bill: Pre-appointment; Point of care; Claim submission; Insurance payment or denial; and Patient payment. This post will overview each of these phases, and could even be considered to be a “101-level” course on Revenue Cycle Management.

With high deductible health plans on the rise, the recent explosion of telehealth appointments due to COVID-19, and many other factors in play, it’s more important than ever for everyone to understand the life cycle of a medical bill, and how the process works. The healthcare revenue cycle is relevant not only to those who work in healthcare, but to the patient, too.

The revenue cycle is the series of processes around healthcare payments—from the time a patient makes an appointment to the time a provider is paid—and everything in between. One way to think of it is in terms of the life cycle of a medical bill. Although there are many ways this process can play out, this post will lay out a common example below:

1. Pre-appointment
For most general care, the first stage of the revenue cycle begins when a patient contacts a provider to set up their appointment. Generally this is when relevant patient information will begin to be collected for the eventual bill, referred to on the financial side of healthcare as a claim.

At this point a provider will determine whether the appointment and procedure will need prior authorization from an insurance company (referred to as the payer). Also, the electronic health record (EHR) used to help generate the claim is created, and will begin to accumulate further detail as the provider sends an eligibility inquiry to check into the patient’s insurance coverage.

2. Point of care
The next step in the process begins when the patient arrives for their appointment. This could include when a patient arrives for an initial consultation, an outpatient procedure, or for a follow-up exam. This could also include a Telehealth appointment.

At any of these events, the provider may charge an up-front cost. One example of this is a co-pay, which is the set amount patients pay after their deductible (if they are insured), however, there are other kinds of payments that fall into this category, too.

3. Claim submission
After the point of care, the provider completes and submits a claim with the appropriate codes to the payer. In order to accomplish that, billing staff must collect all necessary documentation and attach it to the claim. After submitting the claim to the payer, the provider’s team will monitor whether a claim has been been accepted, rejected, or denied.

[ Note: Medical coding refers to the clerical process of translating steps in the patient experience with reference numbers. The codes are normally based on medical documentation, such as a doctor’s notes or laboratory results. These explain to a payer how a patient was diagnosed and treated, and why. This information helps the payer decide how much of an encounter is covered under any given insurance plan, and therefore how much the payer will pay. ]

4. Insurance payment or denial
Once the payer receives the claim, they ensure it contains complete information and agrees with provider and patient records. If there is an error, the claim will be rejected outright and the provider will have to submit a corrected claim.

The payer then begins the review process, referred to as adjudication. Payers evaluate claims for accurate coding and documentation, medical necessity, appropriate authorization, and more. Through this process, the payer decides their financial obligation. Any factor could cause the payer to deny the claim.

If the claim is approved, the payer submits payment to the provider with information explaining details of their decision. If the claim is denied, the provider will need to determine if the original needs to be corrected, or if it makes more sense to appeal the payer’s decision.

Following adjudication, the payer will send an explanation of benefits (EOB) to the patient. This EOB will provide a breakdown of how the patient’s coverage matched up to the charges attached to their care. It is not a billing statement, but it does show what the provider charged the payer, what portion insurance covers, and how much the patient is responsible for.

5. Patient payment
The next phase occurs when the provider sends the patient a statement for their portion of financial responsibility. This stage occurs once the provider and payer have agreed on the details of the claim, what has been paid, and what is still owed.

The last step occurs when a patient pays the balance that they owe the provider for their care. Depending on the amount, the patient may be able pay it all at once, or they might need to work with the provider on a payment plan.

 

The above example represents one way the lie cycle of a medical bill can play out. Some of the ‘phases’ are often repeated. Because of the complexity of healthcare payments and the parties involved, there is not always a ‘straight line’ from patient care to complete payment. That’s why we call it the revenue cycle, and there are companies that provide systems for its management.

One of EZClaim’s partners, Waystar, aims to simplify and unify healthcare payments. Their technology automates many parts of the billing process laid out above, so it takes less time and energy for providers and their teams, and is more transparent for patients (Click here to learn more about how Waystar automates manual tasks and streamlines workflows.) When the revenue cycle is operating at its most efficient, providers can focus their resources on improving patient care—and that’s a better way forward for everyone!

For more information of how Waystar works together with EZClaim, click here.

[ Article and image provided by Waystar ]

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ABOUT EZCLAIM:
EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support, and can help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit their website, e-mail them at sales@ezclaim.com, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.

How to Improve Medical Billing Revenues

Improving Medical Billing RevenuesIt IS POSSIBLE to improve medical billing revenues, and here are a few ways to do just that.

Healthcare practitioners, whether established or just starting out, have many overwhelming tasks: Managing a practice; Seeing patients; Working to staying up-to-date on administrative tasks; The whole host of compliance at the federal, state, and local level; and Overseeing the billing.

One of these that can lead to loss of revenue is not properly managing the medical billing, which can also lead to HIPAA fines and rejected claims. However, there is a solution: a medical billing system that balances the budget and optimizes revenues of medical practice.

EZClaim, an expert in the medical billing software market since 1997, provides a solution that improves the efficiency of an office’s billing process in many ways. The following are the primary reasons.

Reduce Coding Errors
Medical procedures become codes, codes become claims, and claims become revenue. Any error in this process can make claims to be denied, your workload can be increased, and revenue can be lost. To help in avoiding errors, it is essential to use billing software that offers the easiest implementation and access to descriptive diagnosis and treatment codes. EZClaim’s medical billing solution offers ease-of-use in coding, billing, and strong partnerships with Clearinghouses which act as an additional ‘safety net’ for catching errors.

Administrative Support
Most medical practices are a small team of people tackling a wide range of tasks, so when one cannot understand the function of the billing software, accessing reliable support is very important. EZClaim prides itself on having dedicated support experts available, and that was how the company was established. Founder and President Al Nagy has said, since day one, “We are a support company that happens to sell medical billing software.”

Maintain Industry Compliance
It is important to recognize that industry compliance and a practice’s revenue go hand-in-hand. Filing and batching inaccurate and non-HIPAA compliant claims can often be traced back to an outdated healthcare revenue management system. Conquering these tasks requires a focus on multiple fronts: A properly trained billing team, clear office procedures, patient payment policies, and a reliable medical billing company. These are all ways to help buttress against non-compliance and rejected claims.

Streamline Workflow
Recently, a study was done that showed almost 80% of medical bills contain errors. These incorrect medical claims often end up as lost revenue originally, not to mention the additional cost of resubmissions and collections. One of the best ways to resolve this problem for your practice is to make use of both well-trained, experienced billers and coders, combined with a competent medical billing solution that aids in catching these errors. EZClaim software features a library of standard validation, the ability to add custom validation, and integrates with Alpha II for full claim scrubbing.

Follow up
Errors will and do occur, so establishing a system for follow-up on all denials will close the loop and protect against lost revenue. Being consistent with the follow-up process, and having a medical billing solution that tracks these things will help close that gap.

Collections
Finally, probably the most important aspect that optimizes a practice’s revenue is to get paid. Portals and payment collection systems definitely help with this, but having collections integrated into the medical billing system is, of course, the best. EZClaim has pain-free payment processing integrated into their solution, called EZClaimPay. It solves all the problems associated with payment processing: Bank deposits, reconciliation, statements, changing fees, and ‘finger-pointing’ when there is a problem. EZClaimPay’s robust platform will greatly increase a practice’s collections success, and improve their revenue.

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ABOUT EZCLAIM:
EZClaim is a medical billing and scheduling software company that provides a best-in-class product, with correspondingly exceptional service and support, and can help improve medical billing revenues. To learn more, visit their website, e-mail them at sales@ezclaim.com, or call a representative today at 877.650.0904.

[ Photo credit: Studioarz ]