The pandemic is creating havoc with Community Health Centers throughout the country. Revenue streams are being reduced or cut off with the suspension of non-emergency medical and dental services, the reduction of in-office, recurring visits due to limited staff, and patients wanting to delay visits until after the pandemic.
Then, there is the avalanche of Covid-19 patients, many of them struggling financially and uninsured.
There are nearly 1,400 community health centers in the U.S. providing services for 28 million people annually, at more than 13,000 sites. They are often the only point of care for many Americans considered the most medically vulnerable.
Impact is significant
The Community Health Centers (CHCs) are facing budget shortfalls and long-term threats to survival. One CHC organization, Farm Workers, which operates clinics in Washington and Oregon, had to reduce staff by150 due to the pandemic. Although the organization received a one-time federal grant of $3.8 million through the emergency funding of the CARES Act, that money is for COVID use and can’t be used for payroll.
Farm Workers’ CEO, Carlos Olivares, said: “Between February and July 1, we’ll lose $10 million in revenue.” He said the impact is definitely “not insignificant.”
The Farm Workers organization is not alone. Community Health Centers across the country face similar financial challenges. Most of them are seeing dramatic decreases in patient volumes along with soaring medical supply costs due to the virus. All of them have mounting debt and many will seek additional funding.
Some clinics have been forced to close their doors altogether, while others see office visits down as much as 75% or more. This is partly offset; however, by the dramatic spike in telemedicine and telehealth, leading to improved patient coverage and additional revenue. “Virtual care” is a trend that promises to grow, having the advantages of being non-contact as well as more convenient for patients.
Innovative healthcare payments system is helping
Liquid Payments is a modern, mobile-based payments solution coming at the right time for Community Health Centers. Supporting multiple contactless payment options, patients are notified via text or email of amounts due and enabled to pay conveniently right from their mobile device.
The solution also supports telemedicine and telehealth with its TeleCharge feature, an instant mobile payment option initiated at the time of a remote encounter. Through Liquid’s TeleCharge option, providers and patients can more easily opt for virtual visits and efficiently capture payments remotely, a welcomed option to CHCs moving in that direction.
Additionally, through its AI-based, Robotics Processing Automation (RPA), the platform integrates automatically with any underlying EMR/practice management system. The RPA technology is leveraged to enable the automatic posting of payments into a patient’s account and can also be applied to gather data on patient balances owed to facilitate an improved, automated process for capturing payments.
These features, and more, can provide much needed financial and operational relief for CHCs and perhaps alleviate the need to displace staff or resort to other, less desirable cost-cutting measures.
The all-electronic payments platform is PCI and HIPAA compliant as well.
Shock absorbers for hospitals
This is a tough time for all Community Health Centers. There may be more federal financial help on the way with the recent passing of the HEROES Act by the House, but it still needs approval in the Senate.
Any kind of additional financial help can’t come soon enough. Steve Carey is the chief strategy officer for the National Association of Community Health Centers. He said: “We are the shock absorbers for hospitals. Hospitals are going to be overwhelmed and we are on the front line of healthcare on all of these issues.”
So, while CHCs wait for more financial assistance, the Liquid Payments system is an attractive cost-cutting strategy they can consider to help improve their chances of maintaining financial stability during this crisis.
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