rcm glossary

Accounts receivable (AR)

Accounts receivable (AR) is the outstanding payments owed to a healthcare organization by patients or insurance companies for services rendered.

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What is Accounts Receivable (AR)?

Accounts Receivable (AR) refers to the outstanding payments owed to a healthcare provider or organization for the services rendered to patients or clients. It represents the total amount of money that is yet to be collected from insurance companies, government payers, or patients themselves. In the healthcare revenue cycle management (RCM) process, accounts receivable plays a crucial role as it directly impacts the financial health and sustainability of the organization.

AR is a key financial metric that helps healthcare providers monitor and manage their revenue streams. It represents the revenue that has been recognized but not yet received, and it is recorded as an asset on the organization's balance sheet. The AR balance is constantly changing as new services are provided, payments are received, and adjustments or write-offs are made.

Key Components of Accounts Receivable

To better understand accounts receivable, it is important to familiarize ourselves with its key components:

1. Charges: Charges refer to the amount billed to the payer or patient for the services provided. These charges are typically based on the fee schedule or negotiated rates between the healthcare provider and the payer.

2. Payments: Payments are the actual funds received from the payer or patient. They can be in the form of insurance reimbursements, patient payments, or government payments. Payments are applied to specific charges to reduce the outstanding AR balance.

3. Adjustments: Adjustments are reductions in the billed charges due to contractual agreements, discounts, or write-offs. They can be contractual adjustments negotiated with insurance companies or bad debt write-offs for uncollectible accounts.

4. Denials: Denials occur when a payer refuses to reimburse the healthcare provider for a particular service. Denials can be due to various reasons such as coding errors, lack of medical necessity, or missing documentation. Denials need to be addressed and appealed to ensure proper reimbursement.

Accounts Receivable vs. Accounts Payable

While accounts receivable (AR) represents the money owed to a healthcare provider, accounts payable (AP) refers to the money that the provider owes to its vendors, suppliers, or other entities. Accounts payable is the opposite side of the financial equation and represents the organization's liabilities.

The main difference between AR and AP is the direction of the cash flow. In the case of AR, the healthcare provider is waiting to receive payment for services already rendered. On the other hand, with AP, the provider owes payment to others for goods or services received.

Managing both AR and AP is crucial for maintaining a healthy financial position. Effective management of accounts receivable ensures timely collections, while managing accounts payable ensures timely payments to avoid penalties or strained relationships with vendors.

Examples of Accounts Receivable in Healthcare RCM

To illustrate the concept of accounts receivable in healthcare RCM, let's consider a few examples:

Example 1: Insurance Reimbursement

A patient visits a healthcare provider for a medical procedure. The provider bills the patient's insurance company for the services rendered, totaling $1,000. The insurance company processes the claim and reimburses the provider $800. The remaining $200 becomes part of the accounts receivable balance until it is collected from the insurance company.

Example 2: Patient Responsibility

A patient receives a bill for $500 from a healthcare provider after their insurance company has processed the claim. The patient is responsible for paying a portion of the bill, let's say $100, while the remaining $400 is covered by insurance. The $100 owed by the patient becomes part of the accounts receivable balance until it is collected.

Example 3: Denial Management

A healthcare provider submits a claim for $2,000 to an insurance company. However, the claim is denied due to a coding error. The provider reviews the denial, corrects the error, and resubmits the claim. Once the claim is approved, the $2,000 becomes part of the accounts receivable balance until the insurance company reimburses the provider.

Example 4: Bad Debt Write-Off

A healthcare provider has exhausted all efforts to collect payment from a patient who owes $500. After multiple attempts and communication, it becomes evident that the account is uncollectible. The provider decides to write off the $500 as bad debt, reducing the accounts receivable balance accordingly.


Accounts receivable (AR) is a critical component of healthcare revenue cycle management (RCM) that represents the outstanding payments owed to a healthcare provider. It includes charges, payments, adjustments, and denials, all of which impact the financial health of the organization. Understanding and effectively managing accounts receivable is essential for optimizing revenue streams and maintaining a sustainable healthcare practice.

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