CoPatient, Alegeus partner to help people negotiate pricey medical bills

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When they worked at Watertown’s AthenaHealth, which provides medical billing and other services to the health care industry, Rebecca Palm and Katie Vahle noticed that people weren’t paying their hospital bills on time.

It turns out those people weren’t trying to dodge their debts. Instead, many of them seemed confused about what they actually owed — and there were few resources to guide them. So the duo started a technology-driven company, Boston-based CoPatient, which scrutinizes and negotiates health care bills to reduce costs.

After about four years of building the company, CoPatient has entered into a significant new partnership. The startup is working with Waltham-based Alegeus Technologies, which sells software for managing individual health care plans such as health-savings and flexible-spending accounts. Alegeus claims some 400 clients that process more than $7.5 billion in annual payments.

Spending on health care has been under the microscope nationally since Congress and President Obama began debating actions to overhaul the American health care system. Some elements of Obamacare and the still-sluggish economy have been credited with slowing down the growth in health care spending recently, but anyone who has been hit with a big medical bill can tell you that helping consumers ferret out more savings would be welcomed in many households.

“Many consumers lack the fluency to sufficiently scrutinize health care expenses and advocate on their own behalf,” said John Park, chief strategy officer at Alegeus. “Advocacy services, such as those that CoPatient provides, give consumers tools to play a more active role in their healthcare – breaking the cycle of passive ‘auto-payment’ of health care expenses.”

The deal comes after a bit of a winding path for CoPatient, which was founded in the Boston area in 2011, then moved to Portland, Maine, in 2012 to be closer to its main investors, Cambia Health Solutions. Last fall, CoPatient moved back to Boston after receiving Series A funding from .406 Ventures, a permanent move that is expected to also help the company’s hiring and deal-making in the broader health care industry.

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