Financial Assistance and Payment Plans for Underinsured Patients Shopping for “Shoppable” Hospital Services


Recent price transparency laws are designed to better inform patients as they compare hospital options and “shop” for health care services. In addition to prices, underinsured patients seeking care need information on financial assistance, discounts, payment plans, and upfront payment requirements to compare the affordability of care across hospitals. Little is known about the availability of this information and the experience of prospective patients seeking it. We contacted a random sample of 10% of general short-term hospitals across the United States in this “secret shopper” telephone study to assess financial options and navigation challenges faced by underinsured patients in need of a non-emergency procedure. The administrative friction was substantial. Most hospitals have 3 siloed offices for (1) financial assistance, (2) payment plans and discounts, and (3) upfront payment requirements. All relevant offices were unreachable in 3 attempted calls at 18.1% of hospitals. Among hospitals with available information, the majority have financial options for patients: 86.7% of hospitals offer financial assistance and 97.0% of hospitals offer payment plans to underinsured patients for non-emergency care. The length and terms of payments plans varied widely for hospital-administered and third-party financing arrangements. Upfront payments were sometimes required, potentially posing barriers for patients without cash or credit access.

Randall, S., Rohrer, J., Wong, N., Nguyen, N. L., Trish, E., & Duffy, E. L. (2024). Financial assistance and payment plans for underinsured patients shopping for “shoppable” hospital services. Health Affairs Scholar2(5), qxae062.

The full study can be viewed at Health Affairs Scholar.

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