Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sliding Fees

A lot of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals tell me they slide their fees, giving reduced rates to patients who can't otherwise afford to come. I want to ask: How do docs decide to do this? At clinics, scales are based on income (perhaps by family size), and just income, with a pre-set structure. But in private practice, this isn't usually the case (I don't think), and I wondered what other people do. In general, I've hesitated to slide my fees very much and this gets hard. Some of the patients I see live life without many luxuries-- rented homes, used cars, rare vacations. Sometimes it's a choice-- they choose not to work (when they could), and sometimes they are struggling quite hard to make ends meet, and yet they don't utter a word of concern about my fees. If anyone brings it up, it's me. Other times, patients are very verbal about their financial issues, how much they plan and calculate exactly what they can afford, and are very concerned about my fees and exactly what they can or can't afford. What's hard is that some of these same people are "strapped" because their life styles include many luxuries--boats, luxury cars, nice trips, a fine bottle of wine here or there, expensive tuitions, and maybe unexpected expenses. They come less then they should, or would like, because my fee is high. Maybe they've bitten off more then they should have (especially in the current economy) and are going through bankruptcy proceedings, or are simply worried about what the future might bring. Being tight on funds and the perception of what one can afford is based on many things, and so I'm putting this out not to get my own answers, but to ask how other people deal with this? Years ago I had a friend who was seeing a patient at a greatly reduced fee, only to discover that he lived in a much nicer house then she could afford-- it put some tension into the therapeutic relationship, I'm sure.