Death may be the final act, but the unpaid hospital bill is the denouement.
Known as deceased patient receivables, those final bills aren’t always easy to settle – for the provider as well as the patient’s next-of-kin. Often, those bills are handled in probate courts, with providers outsourcing collection duties to agencies or law firms.
“They end up costing the provider a lot of money,” said Angela Horn, vice president of business development and assistant general counsel at Forte, LLC, which helps healthcare organizations handle deceased accounts. “They can be time-intensive and sensitive, and in many cases not effective.”
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“It’s a massive undertaking,” she added, noting there are more than 3,400 probate courts in the United States – each with its own authority to dictate terms of collection. “And it’s continuous.”
Founded in 1998, Minneapolis-based Forte has focused on connecting healthcare providers with the probate system to facilitate collection of deceased accounts. This past August, the company announced the launch of Probate Finder OnDemand, a Web-based service that allows providers to upload accounts online and match them with probated estates. The system selectively matches accounts for claims preparation, prepares the claims forms, then mails them to the appropriate parties.
Horn sees three trends in healthcare that point to a need for Probate Finder OnDemand. First, America’s aging population is growing. Second, the healthcare industry is seeing a 30 percent increase in self-paying patients. Third, end-of-life care tends to be expensive.
Horn said 85 percent of hospitals surveyed feel they don’t have an effective system in place for collecting on probated accounts. Many, she said, eventually write them off.
“Many of them recognize that they need to manage this part of the revenue cycle, and they realize it simply can’t be treated as another collectible,” she said.
An Arizona-based physician who has used Probate Finder OnDemand – and who asked not to be identified – said the service helps his practice identify recovery opportunities that would have been missed.
“Probate Finder OnDemand works exactly as advertised. With minimal effort on our part, it quickly and accurately locates patient estates and automatically submits claims on our behalf,” he said. “In addition to identifying active estates, Probate Finder OnDemand's ongoing monitoring feature ensures we don't miss out on any future estate filings.”
“Probate Finder OnDemand makes the whole process of finding estates and filing claims so much easier,” said Deborah Ivy, billing manager for South Texas Oncology and Hematology, in a press release supplied by Forte.
“Without Probate Finder OnDemand, I wouldn’t know where to start.”