By Joe Sussman
It is without a doubt that health, as a human right, is an established concept. The World Health Organization highlights that the luxury of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. In other words, no one should get sick and suffer because they cannot access the health services they need.
Despite having one of the best healthcare services in the world, however, the people of America often find the care they need is out of their reach. The reason? Cost. At every level, the system is getting more and more expensive, and it is the patients who bear the brunt.
The result is the US has one of the least accessible healthcare systems among high-income nations. Even with more people than ever now insured since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, there is a whole new problem. The majority of people are completely underinsured and, as a result, underprepared for the cost of unexpected medical expenses.
Due to high deductibles and an average coinsurance payment of 20%, people can still find themselves facing substantial financial hardship to get the treatment they require – even if they have insurance. It is because of this reality that medical debt remains the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.
What does this mean?
It means that people are increasingly looking to loan companies to help them foot the bill for the care they need, which has created a predatory lending environment. Medical finance companies are taking advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, saddling them with high-interest rates, complicated contracts, and hidden loopholes.
My family knows this situation first hand. I was born deaf and had to go through several surgeries in my younger years to overcome the challenges this disability presents. I know paying for my treatment created significant financial hardship for my parents, but they took it on in order to give me the quality of life I have now.
While I am forever grateful that they did, this kind of financial exploitation needs to stop. When profit margin comes before the physical and economic wellbeing of an individual, the system is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
It is high time we changed the focus to put the people that matter in the middle of it — the patients. After all, with healthcare in the US now a business transaction, it is on the healthcare providers to ensure they keep their customers happy, retained, and loyal.
At the very minimum, that means providing loans that work for them, with low-interest rates and flexible, transparent payment terms.
Such flexibility has too long been viewed as a bad thing for business, particularly when it comes to the finance industry. But that is not the case.
When those that need extra support are given it, through extended interest-free periods, for example, we know that not only do default rates drop but retention increases. A compassionate approach is not only good for humanity, but it is also good for business too.
I believe keeping compassion at the forefront of what you do is essential. Think outside of traditional business models and reinvest a percentage of your profits into the people who need it most, and you will never regret investing in your customers.
For all that finance providers can do, I believe there is also more that can be done internally to reduce costs before they even get to patients. I think there’s something to be said for creating a “Super Highway” of health information shared electronically between all healthcare providers, informing them of a patient’s medication history. This would not only help reduce the risk of medical error, but it would lower the administration costs that get passed on to the patient.
There’s also scope for creating a “value line” of healthcare, in the same way, that budget airlines cater to thriftier travelers, or Costco Wholesale sells its products and services at a known markup. We don’t want to cut corners but provide reasonable costs that align with the care received.
More than anything, though, we in the medical finance industry need to use our contacts and relationships with healthcare providers to try to make a difference. We need to advocate for cheaper, more accessible care, and negotiate for our customers when they need it most. And we need to do this now.
Joe Sussman is Director of Operations for BetterMed.