Last year I dealt with a stack of medical bills from one appointment. You’d think that for one appointment you’d get one bill, but no. You get a bill from the doctor’s office, one from the pathology lab, another for the paper the office used to print the bill, and so on. Just when you think you’re done paying, they send another bill. I was getting bills from an appointment in November nearly four months later! I wouldn’t be surprised if I find a bill in the mail when I get home today.
Medical bills are overwhelming and difficult to decode, but you have several tools to understand these complicated statements:
- Read Over Your Medical Bills
This seems pretty obvious, but read over your medical bills carefully. Make note of things you have questions about or don’t understand. When I read through my medical bills, at first glance it looked like I was being charged multiple times for one thing. Also, what goes into my payment for “hospital charges”? Seriously, one of my bills just said I owed $180 for hospital charges with no further description. If you don’t know why you’re being charged for something, why would you willingly pay for it?
- Call the Hospital and Speak with the Billing Department
If you don’t understand why you’re being charged for certain things, the medical billing department at the hospital can pull up a detailed invoice with specific charges sent to your insurance company. Additionally, you can ask the billing department to send you the detailed invoice for your own records. Carefully look over those invoices and make notes with any questions you have.
- Speak with a Hospital Client Advocate
While the hospital billing department can tell you what you were billed for, you’ll want to speak with a client advocate if you want details about why certain tests were performed. Client advocates will meet with you and go through all of your documents. They’ll explain line by line each item and why you may have to pay for it. My client advocate sat patiently with me for almost two hours to explain everything on my insurance and hospital invoice.
- Speak with Your Insurance Provider
You can also call your insurance provider to get the details on your hospital invoices. I actually found that the person I spoke to from my insurance company was more helpful and knowledgeable with breaking down the charges than the hospital itself – especially when a client advocate wasn’t available.
There’s no way to quickly or easily decode medical bills, and yes, going through them is an arduous process. However, going over every detail ensures you’re paying for the care you received. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal from February 2011, “There are no comprehensive statistics on medical-billing mistakes, but Stephen Parente, a professor of health finance at the University of Minnesota who has studied medical billing extensively, estimates that 30% to 40% of bills contain errors. The Access Project, a Boston-based health-care advocacy group, says it’s closer to 80%.” With percentages all over the board, it certainly doesn’t hurt to make sure you aren’t overcharged or charged for services you never received. After all, catching a mistake could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Although my bills didn’t have any discrepancies, I’m still glad I took the time to look over them. I found that carefully going through my medical bills and asking questions made me feel empowered. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what was going on with my health insurance or what it paid for. However, by asking these questions, I now have a better understanding of how my insurance works.
Examining your medical bills can help save you money from mistakes and help you better understand your charges in the future. Additionally, the more you learn and understand the process, the more control you have over your medical care.