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!