How Does a Sliding Scale Work?

Low income patients may qualify to pay less for medical services on a sliding scale.

A sliding scale pricing system bases prices for a product or service on a purchaser's ability to pay instead of setting a fixed price for all customers. Sliding scales assist customers or medical patients on low or fixed incomes.

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Function

Fees based on a sliding scale take into account a person's income and often other factors such as family size. Typically, they must fill out a questionnaire, provide photo identification and show proof of income to determine if they qualify for a reduced price.

Benefits

Some medical clinics or practitioners offer sliding scales so patients who need health care can afford to use their services. Patients might go without care, or wait until a problem becomes a medical emergency, if they had to pay the full price.

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Considerations

According to the National Health Service Corps, sliding scale fees should be non-discriminatory and maintain patient privacy. NHSC tells its member clinics to use federal poverty guidelines to set fees. For example, a clinic might charge a small fee or nothing at all to patients below the poverty line, and full price to patients whose income is 200 percent above the poverty line.

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