Settling Credits Before Listing Your Practice
You’ve made the decision to sell your practice, and with that comes the to-do list of tasks that can often feel daunting. One important task that is often overlooked is settling patient credit balances.
What are credit balances and where do they come from?
In many cases, a patient will have a credit on their account when their insurance pays more toward their treatment than anticipated or you estimated a patient portion to be higher than was necessary and collected accordingly. In these instances, patients paid more out of pocket than necessary; therefore, the difference will show as a credit on their account and on your accounts receivable report or unassigned credit report. Credit balances can also result from patients mailing in a payment or making an online payment on a balance that they have already paid. These are duplicate payments typically made in error. When this happens, we recommend contacting the patients and advising them of the duplicate payment before posting it to their accounts. Many patients will request that you return their duplicate payment to them and some will elect to leave the credit on their account if they have upcoming treatment planned. If they have upcoming treatment planned, this can be an effective way to get them on the schedule. It can be difficult to reverse an online payment and, in those instances, you may have to post it to the patient’s account. In other cases, patients may pay upfront for larger treatment plans and due to unanticipated circumstances, they were not able to complete their full treatment, or perhaps less treatment became necessary. If you have a practice where patients with insurance are required to pay their patient portion due at the time of scheduling their appointment for treatment, then credit balances will appear on the patient account until the procedures are posted and until insurance has paid their portion, this is just the normal course of collecting patient portions upfront. The same applies to patients without insurance if you collect the patient portion upfront.
How should I be handling credit balances?
To keep your credit balances at a minimum I would suggest you come up with an efficient protocol with whoever is in charge of your accounts receivable, whether it be your office manager, bookkeeper, or yourself. Credit balances are typically handled by an office manager. It is our recommendation that your accounts receivable report or unassigned credit report be reviewed monthly. If there are outstanding claims on an account, no refund is due yet. If there is a credit balance and there are no outstanding claims, we recommend contacting each patient and advising them of the credit balance. And again, if they have been treatment planned for procedures ask each patient if they would like to keep the credit balance on their account and get them on the schedule for treatment. If they have no upcoming treatment, it is typically best practice to refund the patient as soon as possible to keep your accounts clean. Make sure to document these conversations about credit balances in patient notes. This will serve you well in the long run when reviewing your reports each month for credit balances. Some practices choose to monitor patient credit balances quarterly; however, if you are preparing to sell your practice, we recommend that you do this monthly. You’d be surprised how quickly credit balances add up and how often they are overlooked.
One important note of caution! When reviewing the credit balances on patient accounts, do not assume that the refund always goes to the patient! You want to look back to the last zero balance on each account and look at patient payments made and insurance payments made. Insurance companies make mistakes and sometimes they overpay and sometimes they make a duplicate payment on a claim. In these instances, the refund is due to the insurance company and not to the patient. Some insurance companies catch these errors quickly and request a refund in writing. Others do not catch them so quickly and they have up to a year to claim their refund (this may vary from state to state). Pay attention to this detail when reviewing accounts. Remember to make notes in patient account notes so you don’t have to repeat your efforts every month.
I have not been settling patient credits on a regular basis, I have thousands of dollars in credits now what?
Follow the detailed recommendations above and get your accounts with credit balances cleaned up. It is essential to do this leg work prior to the sale of your practice. Make every effort to contact your patients to refund any monies due to them. If the refunds are due to insurance company overpayments, contact them and ask that they send a request for refund letter. If you are unable to reach patients with credit balances due to them, these credit balances in many states must be reported to the state in which your practice is located. For example, in the state of Washington, credit balances over a certain dollar amount must be documented on an “Unclaimed Property Report” and filed with the state before November 1st each year. Do some research and find out what your state’s unclaimed property reporting requirements are.
*Disclaimer: The information above is not legal advice. Each state has its own rules and regulations. Be sure to review all rules and regulations as circumstances may vary.