1 in 6 practices paying fees for receiving electronic payments

One-sixth (17 percent) of physician practices responding to a Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) poll said they’re paying fees from 2 to 5 percent for receiving payments electronically—a practice the MGMA wants CMS to prohibit.

Of the 900 practices responding to the poll, 50 percent said no fees were attached to their electronic funds transfer, or EFT. Another 32 percent said they were unsure. Of the 17 percent that said they were forced to pay fees on those transactions from health plans, almost 60 percent said those plans use a third-party payment vendor.

The blame for these practices, according to MGMA, falls on CMS for not issuing guidance to prevent health plans and payment vendors from charging for electronic payments.

“Even though health plans save money not printing and mailing paper checks, some bad actors are fleecing physician groups by charging them to simply receive an electronic paycheck,” Anders Gilberg, MGMA’s senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. “It is critical that CMS issue long-overdue guidance explicitly prohibiting this practice.”

MGMA said CMS’s only action toward prohibiting fees for electronic payments was a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document that was quickly pulled from the CMS website. The agency has established standards for EFT transactions, requiring since 2014 that health plans offer electronic payments if payments request it.

The lack of guidance that allows fees to be attached may be scaring off providers from more efficient electronic payments. The Coalition on Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), which helped craft the existing rules on EFT, estimated only 30 percent of healthcare payments are made electronically. If CMS prohibits fees from being attached to those payments, MGMA has predicted more providers will embrace the time- and resource-saving practice.

“In the interim, practice executives should review all payment contracts with health plans or their vendors closely and push back whenever possible on any health plan or vendor seeking to impose fees on basic EFT payments,” MGMA advised.