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Paycheck Protection Program Deadline Extended

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, it included the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was designed to help small businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The popularity of the program quickly depleted available funds, leaving many businesses – including healthcare providers – looking for ways to cover their payroll.

On April 24, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, the second act that contained money for the PPP, was signed into law. It included $100 billion specifically for healthcare providers for expenses and lost revenue attributable to the Coronavirus outbreak. Many businesses were able to take advantage of this second wave of funds, but as the program was set to expire there were still funds available. Congress quickly passed an extension that was signed into law by President Trump on July 4, moving the final date to apply for funds to August 8.

Facilities that qualify for the PPP and have not yet applied now have more time to do just that. When the extension was signed into law, there was still more than $130 billion in allocated funds that remained unused.

According to a Revcycle Intelligence article, social assistance and healthcare providers received nearly 13-percent of the PPP loans through the end of June, or over $67.3 billion. Rules that were set in June will also help small providers with more flexibility to use funds on non-payroll expenses while easing rules on loan forgiveness and repayment timeframes.

If your facility hasn’t looked into the PPP previously, now may be the time.

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What You Need to Know About the New Robocall Act

There’s a sound that strikes fear in the hearts of many Americans. An incessant noise that we dread.

The ringing of our phone – for a robocall.

As we use our phones for email, text and other messaging systems more and more, fewer people call each other, but that sure hasn’t stopped unscrupulous individuals from picking up the slack, trying everything from offering “free” vacations and reducing debt to hawking medical devices they swear your doctor is paying for.

In 2019, more than 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States, which means over 178 calls were made to the average American. That’s a lot of calls you don’t want to answer!

Just before the new year, President Trump signed into law the Pallone-Thune TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act, an important step in the fight against these illegal robocalls. And while this act won’t instantly stop all those calls from coming in, it will help the FCC and law enforcement go after scammers with increased penalties and push major wireless carriers and home phone providers to do more to stop the incessant calls.

More importantly, it will give consumers something even better than a quieter phone. It will give them the confidence to know that the calls coming to their phones are actually meant for them, which means more answered calls, and in the legitimate collection’s world, more right party contacts and more debt recovery for you.

At Americollect, we’ve been following this Act since it was initially announced and are excited about the impact it will have not only for us, but for hospitals and healthcare providers across the country. There are several elements that we see having an impact on unwanted robocalls, including:

  • Telecommunications providers must implement STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited and Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs), which uses digital certificates based on common public key cryptography techniques to ensure the calling number of a telephone call is secure. Simply put, each telephone service provider obtains their digital certificate from an authority who is trusted by other telephone service providers.
  • The implementation of a comprehensive caller ID authentication program designed to let people know whether or not the caller ID displayed on incoming calls is accurate. This also includes a validated “name portion” of the caller ID, which, if you have a cell phone, it currently shows only the number and the city/state.
  • The FCC is required to ensure that consumers who receive telephone service from smaller or rural providers benefit from an authentication service.
  • Telephone providers are prohibited from billing separately for either the authentication or blocking services.
  • The FCC must initiate a proceeding to evaluate how to require voice providers that provide multiple phone numbers to callers (like Skype and Google Voice) know their customers. (This will stop robocallers from cycling through numerous numbers to avoid detection.)
  • Enhanced FCC enforcement mechanisms.
  • Establishing working groups and reports from the FCC.
  • The FCC has to allow providers to employ a “robocall blocking” methodology for unauthenticated calls.

The concern with the last bullet for legitimate calling businesses is ensuring that they are not blocked by accident. Imagine your entire health system being unable to connect on any outbound calls because the telecommunications provider determined you were a “robocaller” simply for calling with appointment reminders.

To help ensure that Americollect numbers are verified as authentic, we have partnered with a leader in the field of unique identity resolution. They monitor to safeguard our numbers from being listed as spam or robocalls when we’re making outbound calls, increasing the confidence that the right name is displayed on caller ID when we call.

In addition to utilizing what the TRACED Act will provide, Americollect is taking additional steps to ensure that we are able to connect with your patients through a variety of means, including the Reassigned Number Database.

The Reassigned Number Database is a single comprehensive database that will contain information related to disconnected numbers so a caller can determine whether a number has been permanently disconnected – and reassigned – prior to making a call. Once the Reassigned Number Database goes live in mid to late 2020, we will be able to take additional steps to certify the numbers we are calling have not been reassigned before we call. It is important that healthcare providers develop a process within their system to note the date they received the phone number from the patient and the last time it was verified. 

The new omnichannel solution we are working on, which is an advanced communication platform, will allow us to seamlessly ping the Reassigned Number Database quickly and succinctly, ensuring that we are able to continue making contact at our regular rate without missing a beat. Our omnichannel solution means near real-time action, something other agencies may be unable to provide.

Americollect uses email to communicate with patients on an opt-in basis, however a recent proposal by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is providing legal clarity for the use of email, which only strengthens our omnichannel solution. According to Meddata.com, 86-percent of patients still receive paper medical bills. When you look at the number of people who receive their bank, credit card, cell phone and other statements via email, there is a lot of potential for this communication channel.

Once the CFPB moves forward with clarifying the rules for email communication, we will be able to work with patients who don’t have confidence in their phone to have confidence in their email, knowing that the communication they receive from us is real. You can help your collection agency prepare for this by sharing verified patient email addresses you have on file, so they have multiple ways to contact the consumer.

Not only will the TRACED Act help agencies like Americollect reach patients, it will also help hospitals battle incoming robocalls. The Hospital Robocall Protection Group is being created to assist hospitals by issuing a “best practices” to how hospitals can better combat unlawful robocalls made to hospitals, how they can better protect themselves from such calls and how the Federal and State governments can help combat such calls.

We are excited about how the TRACED Act will positively impact unwanted robocalls, making it easier for patients to confidently know the calls they are receiving are real, not spam calls that we all dislike.

We are even more excited to be able to answer our phones and not be offered a “free” trip or medical device that we don’t need!

 

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