To those of you who’ve been paying attention, this may not exactly be news.

Apparently, health insurers don’t pay claims immediately and deny some of them. But it is news because practice management/billing company AthenaHealth has quantified the numbers across its practices and published a list by plan of who’s paying when. They’ve even sent me the spreadsheet with every plan’s numbers. And they, or rather their apparently amazing PR company (which called me at 6 am—don’t worry I’ll be making them pay my divorce lawyer’s fees) have done amazingly well to get this into Milt Freudenheim’s story in the NY Times called The Check Is Not in the Mail.


But is this news? Insurance companies make money off the float—always have. So it’s in their interest to be at the bottom of the list until either they get fined by the state (as happened to United in Arizona lately) or they get sued by medical associations (as happened to all the big guys in the late 1990s) and settle as Aetna and a bunch of others did three years ago. The numbers AthenaHealth put out seem to be a little better than they were in the 1990s, but maybe not as good as the doctors would like. If I was Humana CEO I’d call my CFO in and ask why we’re on the top of the list when the bigger more profitable plans are down the bottom!

Maybe I just love conspiracy theories too much, but given the NY Times penchant for printing up any rubbish that gets pushed to it by the current administration, perhaps Freudenheim is craving some of Judy Miller’s publicity! After all the CEO of AthenaHealth is not only named Bush but he’s a blood relative.

I’m also amused by the comments from the doc quoted:

Dr. Molly Katz, a Cincinnati gynecologist and former president of the Ohio Medical Association, said she hoped the publicity would encourage insurers to improve their payment practices. "I would much rather have my staff talking to patients than talking to insurance companies," Dr. Katz said.

Be careful what you wish for, Dr. Katz. Given that the organized medicine is getting its wish and we’re seeing more high-deductible plans, she’ll find that her staff—while they may not spend less time on the phone with insurers—will be spending much more time on the phone with their patients. Trying to get them to pay their bills!

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7 replies »

  1. The health service sucks in the USA…. I’m sure all Google employees have great health insurance, thanks to
    their giant company politics.
    What about the rest of our wonderful country? We don’t get that treatment so nobody from Google should ever blog
    about these issues when they are backed by corporate giants. Googles blog by Matt Cutts… Come on people?
    Yhank you…

  2. Call me devil’s advocate, but I am going to agree with the original statement that started the blog, “Let’s hire this PR firm”. According to the NYT article, this information is based on 7,000 medical healthcare providers. This list would include MD’s, DO’s, PT’s, PA’s, APN’s, OT’s, etc. Later on the article, it is mentioned that there are approximately half a million active MD’s nationwide, not healthcare providers in total. It’s my opinion that the information presented in Athena’s payer view website is based on less than 1 percent of healthcare providers nationwide. The data is statistically even more inaccurate than presented. The statistically inaccurate data is then presented on CNBC, the New York Times, and Business Week. This seems more like great marketing than valid research to me.

  3. Barry, the numbers were average, I wonder what the highs and lows were? I’m visiting Canada in June, I’ll check out how long the guvmnt there takes to pay doc bills. Of course there, there is no collection/bad debt problems, all the bills get paid. I’m not sure how your idea of discount for paid less 10 days would work? All the signs I see in professional offices say, “payment due at time of service”. I wonder if you’d get a discount for paying that $30,000 doc bill in less than 10 days? Or that $100,000 hospital bill? In fact the current system of Hospital billings actually takes no interest when bills are paid on a payment plan, at least my last hospital bill did. So sure, I took the payment plan.

  4. Barry,
    I think your incentive plan is a good idea. We don’t reward enough good behavior in this industry.

  5. With the exception of outlier, Champus / Tricare all of the other insurers listed paid their bills between 29 and 37 days after the date of service which does not strike me as unreasonable. Standard terms in many vendor / customer relationships throughout the economy call for payment within 30 days with a modest discount often offered for prompt payment (within 10 days). Providers might want to try this approach, especially with individuals needing to pay out of pocket until a fairly high deductible is reached.