Hire A Biller? Which way to go?! – Part 1 of 4
I’m often asked whether it’s better for therapists to hire a biller or to do it themselves.
Happy to help with this and other related questions!
But…there is a problem… Therapists tend to expect a definitive yes or no answer.
I find this strange. As a therapist, would you tell your client what they should do?
Yet, clinicians seem to expect that my advice regarding whether to hire a biller is a one size fits all proposition.
Sorry. It’s just … not that simple.
In fact, there is so much complexity in answering this question that I am going to take FOUR blogs to address it!
Part 1 – Hire a biller or do my own? Overview.
Part 2 – Outside biller: evaluating services to find the best fit.
Part 3 – How to be successful doing your own billing.
Part 4 – How to evaluate billing software. This is critical regardless of who the biller is.
Should I hire a biller?
Which resource do you have more of – time or money? Let’s look at both.
Billing takes time! There’s no getting around it.
Claim submission is no longer time-consuming, thanks to online EMR/practice management (PM) platforms. But if by “billing” you are thinking of claims submission, that alone won’t make your practice profitable. What is needed for profitability is revenue cycle management (RCM).
RCM is the fancy industry term that describes ALL the activities needed to ensure a practice’s profitability:
- Obtaining correct, complete intake information (including insurance cards)
- Eligibility/benefit verification
- Claims submission
- Review rejected claims, correct, and resubmit
- Posting of paid, denied, and deductible claims
- Dispute/appeal denials or underpayments, and follow up – often repeatedly!
- Follow up on claims that disappear/stay pending too long
- Reconcile remittances with banking
- Challenge clawbacks
- Manage patient balances, which can include multiple tasks:
- Charging credit cards
- Out of network superbills
- Discussing balances / deductibles in a therapeutic manner, developing payment plans as needed.
- Ensure provider enrollment stays current, correct, and matches claim submission
- Stay on top of the numerous payer rules that affect your practice
And that’s in addition to doing your clinical notes. Because you can not submit claims until those notes are done!! If you are – STOP! NOW! Talk to me if you need to know why.
It’s more manageable than it sounds.
However, you must have the time and the right ingredients.
In my experience, these are:
- (that’s why Your Billing Buddy is here!)
- Good software
It may not be the…
- cheapest product
- one “everyone” uses.
- most visually appealing
It’s the one that has the best mix of features, usability, support, and affordability FOR YOU. There is no “perfect” program out there!
- Organization / setting up a good workflow and sticking to it
- Patience – LOTS of patience!
- Frustration tolerance
- Attention to detail
- An interest in problem-solving
- Compartmentalize your emotions
- Meaning? YES, insurance is awful, a mess, etc. I’m sure I’ve used every adjective and four-letter word you are thinking of right now! (and probably more…)
- But if you’re going to deal with it, you will be successful IF -and only IF- you can learn to put those attitudes and emotions to the side while you concentrate on getting the job done. Afterward…go to the gym and hit a punching bag! (Or don’t take insurance).
- Willingness to learn new skills
- Insurance basics
- You don’t need advanced math, but are you willing to deal with numbers?
- …and did I mention patience?
Good billing services, virtual assistants, or W2 employees are not cheap. I understand that it can be tempting to go for the cheapest solution. But too often, I’ve had desperate clinicians interviewing me on the phone, in tears because a bad biller has cost them thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. They ask how much of that back revenue I can collect for them. The answer is dependent on the payers, the specific scenarios, and most importantly the age of the claims, but is usually only a fraction of what they are owed, possibly less than 50%. Is saving money on a biller worth losing that kind of revenue? In the end, do you come out ahead?
Finding the right person – or team – is critical!
This is your income!
If the person you hire does not do a good job, how will you pay the rent – or YOURSELF?
So how much does it cost?
Whichever way you go, it’s significant. It may even be the single most expensive item in your operating budget. But if the biller you hire collects 95% or more of the income that you have worked so hard for, then isn’t it worth it? (95% is a realistic expectation, in my experience.)
What are your choices?
Part-time vs full-time? How much above minimum wage are you able to pay? Consider taxes, health insurance, and other benefits (vacations/paid time off, retirement-401K, productivity bonuses, etc). Plus the cost of payroll and related services. Also, consider that you will need time and energy to train and manage an employee. Can you provide working conditions that will attract good talent?
If you are considering a 1099 contractor instead of an employee, can you be sure you meet the IRS classification for contractors vs an employee? If you mis-classify an employee as a contractor, you could be liable for hefty tax penalties.
Either way, are you able to monitor effectively without micro-managing? How will you provide needed training or supervision?
Does the service charge a percentage* of your income? Other possible ways billers can charge: per transaction, per hour, flat fee per month.
*Percentage-based billing is illegal in some states, either in full or in part. Make sure you do your homework as to YOUR state’s law.
Sometimes the fees adjust up or down depending on collections or volume, sometimes not.
Are there minimum fees? Implementation fees?
Are you paying additional costs, such as software, statement, or electronic transaction charges?
Be sure to ask which of the above RCM functions are (or are not) included. You can’t compare two different solutions on price unless they both offer all the same services.
And these are strictly the cost considerations…In Part 2 I will offer concrete guidance on things you need to contemplate before signing a contract with an outsourced biller or billing service.
Even if you are outsourcing, you still have to monitor performance! For instance, how will you know if your biller – whether contractor, in-house employee, or outside service – is collecting close to 100% of all revenue you have earned? You will have to identify a way to determine if money is being left on the table.
“Time vs. Money”
Is a spectrum, only a place to start evaluating your practice’s needs. “In-house” and “outsource” – both require time AND money.
- Doing your own billing: you have less time but make more money.
- Hiring an employee, virtual assistant, or a billing service typically allows you to achieve more time for yourself.
(Or the ability to see more clients with that extra time.) But, there are more expenses that will reduce your income.
Evaluate where you are in your private practice journey:
Where are you headed?
What does your ideal practice look like?
What is your ultimate goal for your practice?
These are personal questions that can’t be answered in a blog. I highly recommend that you take the time to sit down and answer these questions realistically in order to make the best possible decision for your practice – your business!
When making your decision, consider what you want from your practice.
Where you are in your life and career will definitely play a role.
- Just starting your practice? Mid-career? Headed toward retirement in a few years?
- Do you have additional sources of income?
- Number of client sessions per week do you want to do?
- How many hours per week do you need for documentation and clinical administration?
(notes, treatment plan collaboration with other professionals, continuing education)
- How many hours per week can you realistically devote to non-clinical administrative tasks?
Consider: scheduling; billing/revenue cycle management; marketing; managing requests for new services; returning calls
What are you good at in terms of the billing world?
- If you’ve done billing in the past or are doing it now, what do you struggle with?
- Can you learn to improve – and do you WANT to?
- Based on the clinical hours you are going to work, what is your income likely to be?
- Can you afford the services you want and still make an acceptable income?
- If you cannot, then what is the best compromise until your income improves?
- What’s your level of comfort with technology?
Finally, consider the ingredients I mentioned above that contribute to success in billing.
- There’s no shame if these don’t describe you – most of us didn’t earn clinical degrees with the goal of becoming a biller. (I’m an aberration!)
- Keep in mind that what works for your colleagues, may not work for you.
- It’s important to be realistic, whichever way you decide.
In-house vs outsource isn’t so simple after all.
I’ve barely scratched the surface – which is why there are several more parts to this blog on the way. I hope you’ll join me as I continue helping you decide what’s right for you.
Part 2: Outside biller: Evaluating services to find the best fit.
So, you’ve decided to hire an outside billing service. What now? How do you find the service that’s right for you? I’ll have lots of tips, so don’t miss Part 2.