Why America’s $2.9 Trillion Medical Industry Still Runs on Paper Payments by John Tozzi

Dealing with medical bills, like waiting for the cable guy or buying a used car, has become a cliché of consumer exasperation. Everything from electricity and phone bills to tax returns and parking tickets migrated to electronic payments years ago, but America’s $2.9 trillion health-care economy remains stubbornly stuck in the 1990s. The number of medical bills paid by paper check through the U.S. mail has even increased while payments for all other services have decreased dramatically. Medical payments are the only category to register an increase in paperwork since the start of the 21st century:

It’s not just consumers who are paying by mail. Just 15 percent of commercial insurers make payments to medical providers electronically, according to areport last month from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute. The largest insurers are usually the best at going digital, but Cigna, with 14.5 million customers, sends only 39 percent of payments electronically. That’s because many doctors aren’t signed up to receive electronic transfers, according to spokesman Joe Mondy. Aetna and UnitedHealth Group, in contrast, both say around 80 percent of payments are paperless.

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