How to Manage the Reputation Risks of Hospital Billing

May 22, 2023

Focus on what you can control and create patient-friendly bill pay web pages with clear financial assistance information.

// By Suzanne R. Spruce and Vince Galloro //

In August 2022, the Portland Press Herald — the paper with the highest circulation in the state of Maine — published a long article on unexpected medical bills. The article, “In their own words: Nine Mainers talk about their medical billing nightmares,” covered policies and practices of health systems and insurers. A companion article offered advice to patients as consumers on “how to protect yourself” against hospitals and insurers.

A few days later, an article detailed the interest of state leaders in legislating to regulate certain billing practices, such as the use of facility fees. The newspaper also hosted a live webcast on the issue and asked readers to write in with their stories — the appeal was headlined, “Surprised, confused or outraged by a medical bill? We want to hear from you.”

Four of the individuals profiled in the original story had been patients at Northern Light Health, Maine’s only integrated health care system, with 10 member hospitals.

In our respective roles as chief marketing and communications officer at Northern Light Health and long-time strategic communications advisor to the health system, we set out to mitigate the significant reputational risks for Northern Light Health caused by this coverage.

With elections on the horizon for governor and the Maine State Senate and House of Representatives, we saw how these stories could fuel legislation or regulation that would adversely affect the health system’s ability to underwrite the costs of treating patients across a large, rural state.

Here, we detail the process we employed to mitigate the reputational risks, by enhancing transparency on billing and financial assistance policies and improving the online bill pay experience.

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