Finding Money Ain’t Cheap

Should your ambulance billing service collect $16 million in billings for you or $20 million? Seems like a stupid question. But what if the service knows they will make a profit of $240,000 on the $16 million but only $140,000 on the $20 million?

It’s more expensive to process claims that involve denials, appeals, and multiple phone calls. If your billing service collects an average of $250 per transport and charges 5% of collections, they make $12.50 per claim. What are they supposed to do with claims that need a $20-an-hour-employee to stay on the phone for an hour? Some billing services will ignore these claims; it’s more profitable to write them off and send them to the collections graveyard. And if you’re the EMS client, it’s your agency that loses, not the billing service.

Perhaps you are thinking your billing service has an ethical obligation to work every claim, and if you agreed to pay a set fee per claim, they clearly do. But when the fee structure is an incentive-based percent of collections, things get a bit murky. When paying a percent of collections, you’re basically telling your billing service, “We want you incentivized such that the more money we make, the more money you make – and if we make no money, neither do you.” If that’s the case, is it really a violation of the deal for the billing service to choose not to make money for you on the claims that are not profitable for them?

Everyone in government and business is looking for the best price. EMS chiefs and finance officers have to consider the lowest-price option when seeking bids for goods and services. That’s not only logical, it’s the law in many cases. But low cost and cost effective are not the same thing. Every good manager knows this. Yet when purchasing decisions face the scrutiny of an elected board of commissioners or a finance director or a purchasing office, managers need to have a strong justification for not buying the cheapest available product. Municipalities need to keep two things in mind: First, the profit-oriented private sector does not think like the politically accountable public sector; second, it’s really difficult to beat people at their own game.

For manufacturers and service providers, lowering the price has a number of ramifications, not all of which are pleasant. On the plus side, a low price:

  • Forces efficiencies
  • Makes a business clarify what’s essential
  • Fosters competition

But there are negatives too, including:

  • Forces cost cuts that affect training, support, and the quality of life you can provide to your employees
  • Quality gets compromised
  • The safety and security of your people, your PHI, and your investments may suffer

Any seller can cut price, but great brands offer something beyond low price – convenience, dependability, service, or innovation, for instance. Consider Jet Blue in the airline industry or Amazon in retailing. In the world of EMS billing, that “something beyond” is the ability to process every claim profitably while charging a competitive fee. Few ambulance billers can do that.

The math of collections is worth doing. You may be able to realize double digit collection increases with a single digit fee increase. The higher fee will cover the costs of the technology and advanced processes that can increase collections far beyond the difference you may be paying out. While initially more expensive, applying advanced technology to pursue every dollar on every claim will produce a substantial amount of incremental revenue.

Fire chiefs, revenue cycle managers, finance directors, and municipal officials need to consider their options carefully when making decisions about which billing company offers the best value for their organization. You might think you’re getting a bargain with a billing service that offers a low cost per claim, but just because something is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s a better value. When you’re paying people to find you money, don’t be surprised if they find more when you pay more.

1 thought on “Finding Money Ain’t Cheap”

  1. Good points. When I ran operations, and when I give advice to clients now, the key was/is to scrub the account before it gets billed, write off return mail and many self pay accounts to collections early and while at HCA, any account over 180 days was an automatic write off. We could always have recoveries of bad debts if money came in, but we did not misrepresent the value of our AR.

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We hope that this blog will help Digitech serve as a resource to the ambulance service community and open up discussions about the nuances of the industry. So while you're here, read, absorb, consider, and comment! We look forward to the conversations.

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