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Medical Billing Allowables: How to Set A Practice's Fee Schedules

  
  
  
  
  

medical allowables

In my last article I discussed why fee schedules are set at levels above what a practice would expect to collect. In this article I will discuss some of the principles and best practices to consider when setting a practice's fee schedules. Before I start let me point out that this article is not about negotiating your contracts with payers. Doing that requires many steps, including obtaining a strong understanding of your cost structure. I am focusing only on setting the overall fee schedule for the practice once you know your allowables.

The main goals or principles to consider when setting a fee schedule are:

  1. Be consistent: One key element of a fee schedule is not allowing inconsistencies in how the fees were set to make it hard to understand the true value of your AR at any point in time. If some codes are set at 300 percent of Medicare and others are set at 150 percent of Medicare and still others are legacy fees that are a random multiple of Medicare then it becomes difficult to look at your AR and quickly understand how much it should yield in terms of your collections. On the other hand, if a fee schedule is set in a consistent manner then some simple calculations will provide you with a yield which can be easily applied to you AR to provide you with a quick estimate of what you should collect. In a future article I will outline how to calculate your practice's yield.
  2. Don't leave money uncollected: One of the key ideas to keep in mind is that no matter what an insurance plan is willing to pay for a claim, they will never pay more than you bill them. So, if BCBS is willing to pay $150 for a level 3 office visit but you bill them $125, they will only pay you $125. In addition, some plans pay a percentage of billed charges. Not many do this and typically they represent a small percentage of the practice's charges, but there is no reason to leave any money uncollected. Finally, payer allowables can change throughout the year. If you are charging BCBS $150 (from our previous example) and at some point the allowable goes up to $165, you will only receive $150 unless you increase your fees. So, you need to set you fee schedule high enough that you never bill a contracted payer less than they are willing to pay and high enough that you can reasonable take full advantage of plans that pay a percentage of billed charges. Finally, you want to set fees high enough that you have "wiggle" room and are not caught off guard by unexpected shifts in your allowables (like the BCBS example I provided earlier).
  3. Don't scare away patients: So, given the two principles above why not simply charge 10 times Medicare and be done with it? Well, there are two ideas to keep in mind here. First, many self-pay patients (or those with high deductible insurance plans) will call a doctor's office and ask what about the charge for an office visit or procedure. If the patient hears that your office visit cost $1,500 they will likely move on to the next practice.  The second idea that you need to keep in mind is that patients will see on their Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) that you charged $1,500 for your office visit. Even though the EOB shows you may only have been paid $150, the idea that you charged so much can easily lead patients to view the practice as greedy and unreasonable.

So, given the ideas above you want to set the fee schedule consistently high enough not to leave legitimate money uncollected but not so high that you risk alienating patients when they receive an EOB or are told the charges for the day.

An easy way to achieve this balance is to set the fees at a reasonable percentage of Medicare. Often family practices will use 150 to 200 percent of Medicare and specialist will use 300 percent of Medicare. The percentage you select should be informed by practices in your area and your own payer contracts, but you will typically be quite safe with 200 to 300 percent of Medicare. Before finalizing your fee schedule you should always make sure that none of your payer contracts have carve outs or allowables that exceed (or even come within 25 percent) of your fees. One safety net you should always have in place is a report that identifies any claims that paid at 100 percent of billed charges. If you see this, then your charges for the codes on that claim are too low and you need to revisit your fee schedule.

Now that we have discussed why fees are set above expected collections and how to think about setting fee levels, it is time to discuss how your allowables and fee schedules interact to impact the reports and explanation of benefits that are seen in a practice each day. This will be the subject of the next article.

Copyright 2009, Carl Mays II and the ClaimCare Medical Billing Company

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