Illustration of a doctor and a patient with a clipboard behind them labeled 'insurance'

The Complete Guide to Billing Secondary Insurance Claims

It’s another day at your private medical practice and you’re working on verifying patient insurance and submitting claims. Then, one patient comes across your desk who has not one, but two insurance plans. 

So, what do you do? How do you bill secondary insurance claims?

Managing claims for patients with primary and secondary insurance sounds complex. But following a few essential best practices can make the process smooth and ensure your practice is getting reimbursed as much as possible. 

Primary vs. Secondary Insurance

The first step in billing secondary insurance claims is understanding the difference between primary insurance and secondary insurance. Let’s dive into these two types of plans, what they cover and how to tell them apart.

What Is Secondary Insurance?

Secondary insurance is exactly as it sounds: it’s an additional insurance plan a patient may have on top of their primary insurance. When a provider files a claim for a patient’s care or service, the primary insurance pays that claim first. Once the primary payer covers its portion of the claim, secondary insurance pays a portion.

Oftentimes a patient has a second plan because they are employed but also have a government plan like Medicare, Medicaid or TRICARE. Sometimes the second plan is from a spouse or a parent with insurance.

What’s the Difference Between Primary vs. Secondary Insurance?

The main difference between primary and secondary insurance is that the primary insurance pays towards the claim first. The secondary insurance pays some or all of the remaining balance, which can often include a copay.  

It’s important to note that having two insurance plans doesn’t mean the patient has zero payment responsibility. The secondary insurance won’t cover the primary insurance’s deductible, for example. Patients may also still be responsible for copays or coinsurance even after both insurance plans pay their portion of the claim.

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Scenarios Where Patients May Have Two Insurance Plans

The number of patients you see with secondary insurance often depends on the type of practice or medical specialty. Here are some scenarios where a patient may have secondary insurance:

  • A patient over the age of 65 who has Medicare but is still working at a company with 20+ employees, so they have an insurance plan through their employer, too. Primary insurance = employer’s plan.
  • A patient over the age of 65 who has Medicare and has a supplemental insurance plan. Primary insurance = Medicare.
  • A patient who has insurance through their employer but also has insurance through their spouse’s employer. Primary insurance = the the patient’s employee plan.
  • A patient who is age 26 or younger who is still covered under their parents’ insurance, but also has insurance through their employer. Primary insurance = the employer’s plan.
  • A child who is covered under each parent’s insurance plan. Primary insurance = the parent with the earlier birthday in the calendar year.
  • A patient who is receiving worker’s compensation and has an insurance plan. Primary plan = worker’s comp (for services related to the worker’s compensation injury).
  • A patient who is receiving Medicaid but has another, private insurance plan. Primary plan = private plan.
  • A member of the military who is covered under TRICARE but who also has a private insurance plan. Primary plan = private plan.

If you’re looking for more Medicare-specific information, check out this chart with examples of primary and secondary insurance.

How Do I Know Which Insurance Is Secondary?

When a patient has both primary and secondary insurance, the two plans will work together to make sure they’re not paying more than 100% of the bill total. They do this through a “coordination of benefits” or COB. The COB uses various industry regulations to establish which insurance plan is primary and pays first. 

Determining which insurance is primary and which is secondary isn’t always straightforward. It often depends on the type of insurances the patient has and their age. It can also vary based on the size of the company that provides the employee insurance plan.

Generally, if a patient has insurance through their employer, that employer’s plan is their primary insurance. And if one of the patient’s plans is Medicaid, that’s almost always the secondary insurance. But exceptions can happen, so when in doubt, ask the patient to confirm the COB or call the insurance companies to double-check.

When Can You Bill Secondary Insurance Claims?

You can submit a claim to secondary insurance once you’ve billed the primary insurance and received payment (remittance). 

It’s important to remember you can’t bill both primary and secondary insurance at the same time. Like many aspects of insurance billing and coding, insurance companies have strict specifications on what they will or won’t cover. They also have steps in place to make sure that both plans don’t pay more than 100% of the bill. 

With that in mind, the secondary insurance company will need to see the bill total, how much the primary insurance paid and why they didn’t pay the remainder of the balance. Including the adjustments and categories for the remaining balance is crucial to a seamless secondary claim process.

How to Bill Secondary Insurance Claims

process of 7 steps explaining how to bill secondary insurance claims

If you have a patient with multiple insurance plans, here’s how to submit a claim to secondary insurance:

  1. Collect up-to-date and accurate demographic information about the patient, including their name, birthdate and insurance plan subscription information.
  2. Check eligibility and verify insurance for each of the insurance plans. If neither plan shows up as primary insurance during this process, make sure to contact the patient and tell them they need to update the COB with their insurer. For example, if the primary insurance ended but the secondary insurance is still active, the patient will need to call the secondary insurance to tell them they are now the primary insurer. 
  3. If you’re not sure which insurance plan is primary, ask the patient to verify the COB or contact the insurers. 
  4. Once you’re ready to bill the claim for the patient’s appointment or services, submit the claim to the primary insurance plan. 
  5. After the primary insurance processes the claim, note the allowable amount, the patient responsibility and any adjustments. 
  6. Submit the claim to the secondary insurance. Make sure to include the original claim amount, how much the primary insurance paid and reasons why they didn’t pay the entire claim. Including the remittance information and explanation of benefits (EOB) is important for avoiding a claim denial from the secondary insurance. If there is an outstanding COB issue, tell the patient to call the insurers and confirm which insurance plans are active and primary. 
  7. Once the secondary insurance pays their portion of the claim, forward any remaining balance to the patient.

How to Prevent a Secondary Insurance Claim Denial

One of the most common reasons for secondary insurance claim denials is a COB issue. For example, you might bill the wrong insurer first or the primary plan is no longer active. COB issues can often happen with Medicare patients, so it’s important to verify insurance and confirm COB before submitting a claim, if possible. Otherwise, your clean claim rate and revenue cycle could be at risk. 

Other than a COB issue, the secondary insurance will usually deny a claim for missing information. To avoid this kind of denial, you must submit the original claim amount, how much the primary insurance paid and any reasons why the primary insurance didn’t pay the full claim. Including remittance information and EOB will help with this, too.

Knowing How to Bill Secondary Insurance Claims: It’s All About the COB

When it comes to secondary insurance, avoiding claim denials and payment delays all comes down to the coordination of benefits (COB). It’s critical that you confirm which insurance plan is the primary plan and whether that plan is active. Once it’s time to submit that claim to the secondary insurance, make sure you include every detail from the primary insurer, including remittance and EOB. 

While there may be a lot of twists and turns when billing multiple insurers, having a reliable RCM platform can ease the burden. With Gentem, you’ll be able to increase your reimbursements with more accurate claims that are filed faster. Our real-time eligibility checks will verify insurance in seconds, providing accurate results that support your revenue cycle and strengthen your practice’s bottom line.

Ready to see Gentem’s powerful RCM software in action? Book a demo today and see how it can help you increase your revenue by an average of 20%.

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