Protect yourself and your budget when signing online medical financial consent forms

In many cases, in order to help with the workload that a new patient typically encounters in the waiting room, medical providers are sending some forms through the Internet for patients to fill out or read at home. Some of these involve financial forms that, while seemingly boilerplate, can include some items that might affect any conflicts over payment for the cost of health care services after care is received. Here is some of the best advice for going over these important financial forms.


Do

Do figure out how your insurance will treat your medical bills

It may take additional time on your part with a follow-up phone call, but getting more details about your insurer’s benefits for a specific procedure from a particular provider, can be extremely useful in helping to avoid problems after the fact. You may want to ask the same question in a different way to determine if there are details you should know about like exclusion to coverage. Also, you can always refer to your insurance policy handbook.

Do find out who will be charging you

You can get a heads-up on surprise bill scenarios like facility fees, ancillary services, or double-billing by attending physicians if you understand who will be sending you the bill. Have a conversation with your primary care doctor on who all is included in your care team.

Do understand implied or expressed agreements on payment methods

In some cases, providers will want to keep a credit card on file for automatic charges or take a large deposit for some health care services. Your consent may include automatic payment for future services. Look for these details on financial forms before checking the consent to pay box.

Do look for arbitration language

Many providers have also replaced standard legal aspects of complaint procedures with something called “arbitration”, which can be a bad deal for the patient if the arbitrator tends to favor the provider. Legalese can be cumbersome. If in doubt, ask.

Do read the entire form before signing

As with other kinds of financial documents, you may be tempted to scan forms, but this can lead to some of the major problems others have faced after they have already agreed to the terms set forth by the provider. Read all sections of the document, including the fine print.


Don't

Do not sign away your rights

Carefully placed arbitration policies and other fine print can erode your ability to negotiate or otherwise appeal health care bills later. Pay careful attention to these kinds of clauses before signing financial forms. Read all of the consent forms very carefully.

Do not allow the provider to be the only record holder

If possible, it’s a good idea to keep your own records of these financial forms, just in case there’s any clarification needed at a later time. Keep your files organized by separating bills by provider by year.

Do not assume you will have to pay charges automatically

Patients who pay up front before insurance (excluding co-pays or deductibles), or otherwise overpay, can have major problems getting a refund from providers. Again, understanding how your insurance works is paramount. If you have insurance coverage, wait until you receive your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) before sending payment to your doctor.

Do not enter into an agreement without a plan

You will have a better outcome with potential problems if you are prepared with a planned response. Reading financial forms is part of this, but more up-front communications with a medical office can also do a lot to prepare you for a later situation. Ask for clarification on language or terms that appear vague to you. The more details you have on the front end can save you heartache on the back end.

Do not be afraid to ask for more information or clarification

One of the biggest mistakes that new patients make when completing paperwork is to limit their communications to just one person in a medical office, such as a receptionist, or to decline to ask questions all together because of intimidation or not wanting to bother medical staff. In reality, asking these questions up-front may save everyone a lot of work in the future.


Summary
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Many factors can affect your health care experience including your doctor’s financial policies. Be vigilant and aware of unclear language or mistakenly waiving your legal rights. If you find yourself getting bogged down in the technical jargon that is contained in these online medical financial forms, you simply don’t understand a part, or you just want more clarification, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider for more information.


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Sue (Sunni) PattersonPresident/CEO

Sue (Sunni) Patterson started in the healthcare industry as a senior medical claims processor with a major insurance payer. Sunni is President of RMK Holdings Inc., a healthcare revenue cycle management services firm. Key specialization areas in...

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