Payment disputes between insurers and providers are nothing new. Even with their secret, self-serving network contract arrangements, these relationships have been perpetually uneasy.
While insurers have billions of dollars in claims adjudication technology and staffing that should make processing and paying claims more rapid and accurate, they have always delayed payments to providers, sometimes as long as nine months or more, because every dollar they “float” for an extra day is to their shareholders’ advantage. But lately, this longstanding practice of delaying payment has worsened.
Kaiser Health News reports that the country’s two largest insurers are behind on billions of dollars in payments owed to hospitals and doctors nationwide. As of June 30, 2019, Anthem Blue Cross had not paid 43% of its medical bills. That figure has risen to 53% since the pandemic, and yet profits were $3.5 billion for the first half of 2021.
So why is this escalating? Some insurers point to the chaos driven by COVID-19. Others have introduced new and opaque reimbursement rules under the guise of cost-saving measures. Whatever the purported reason, these practices are indefensible in the face of ample resources and healthy bottom lines. More importantly, they are negatively impacting patients and providers in unprecedented ways.
According to VCU Health, an academic medical center affiliated with Virginia Commonwealth University, 52% of outstanding claims are more than 90 days old, despite a Virginia law that requires insurers to pay claims within 40 days. This delay has created “an unmanageable disruption” that threatens to undermine the financial footing of their teaching hospital in Richmond, Virginia.
Providers aren’t the only ones affected by egregious payment practices. Patients are reporting significantly more claim denials and prior-authorization hurdles than usual. The American Hospital Association asserts that insurer demands that go against the provider’s advice appear to be motivated by profit. Patients who receive recommended and routine treatments are now receiving astronomical bills when such services are deemed “experimental” and “not medically necessary.”
Doctors and hospitals appreciate knowing in advance how much they will be paid, and then getting paid quickly and accurately. Ethical health plan administrators who follow this practice, while still applying rigorous pre-payment scrutiny for billing fraud, waste, and abuse, are acting in the best interest of their clients and their clients’ members.