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UnitedHealth Extends Credit When Patients Pay Providers

UnitedHealth Group provides a desirable service to providers in a pilot program in which patients who don't pay medical bills on time will have the money deducted from their paychecks or health savings accounts. The insurer says that it is offering a convenient way for consumers to pay deductibles and copayments to providers in an age in which there always seems to be another form to fill out. But if consumers are delinquent, UnitedHealth will charge interest at the prime rate.

As the Wall Street Journal puts it: "Under the new program, dubbed 'OnePay,' UnitedHealth will pay a patient's portion directly to a provider as soon as it processes an insurance claim. Then it will collect from the patient, with payment due in 20 days. If patients can't pay 100 percent of their portion right away, UnitedHealth will act as a creditor, steadily receiving payments, plus interest, that are deducted from the patients' paychecks until the bill is paid in full."

UnitedHealth's program, being launched in Texas, is voluntary. Even if patients react a little warily, providers and employers, as might be expected, are excited. Tenet Healthcare, which is participating, is willing to accept discounted payments at its 14 Texas hospitals from participating companies or patients.

"Any sacrifice we would make would be offset by the gain we would get on those additional collections," Stephen Mooney, Tenet's vice president for patient financial services, tells the Journal.

Tenet participates as an employer, as well as a provider, offering OnePay to its workers. The same goes for UnitedHealth and for its Texas employees.

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