A trip to the hospital can fill your mailbox with stacks of bills from the doctor, pharmacy, labs, emergency room, and more. Handling this paperwork can add stress to an already trying situation.
Here are some things you can do to keep your medical bills from piling up faster than you can pay them.
Know before you go.
- Understand your policy’s rules and benefits before you have any medical procedures performed, if possible.
- Make sure you know why all procedures or tests are being done.
Keep everything. Hang on to all receipts, insurance forms, bills, and anything else related to your medical care.
Organize. Keep track of your bills by making a file for each provider, arranged by service date.
Itemize. If you don’t receive itemized bills, request them. Errors are common, so review every bill when you receive it. A simple mistake, like an incorrect computer code, can be costly.
Review. Ask these questions when you get your bill:
- Is your personal and insurance information correct?
- Were you charged more than once for the same service?
- Were you charged for something you refused or didn’t receive?
- Is there anything that seems unreasonably high or questionable?
Don’t ignore the explanation of benefits form. This paperwork comes from your insurance company. It shows your medical services and dates provided. It also shows how much you and your plan will pay. If you don’t understand what you owe and why, call your insurance company and find out.
What if you think there’s a mistake?
Medical bills and the payment process can be complicated — services provided by different departments may be billed at different times, and insurance claims can lag behind the statements you receive from your provider. This is why it’s so important to keep your bills organized and review them for mistakes. Depending on the type of error you find, here’s what you should do:
Charged twice or billed for services you didn’t receive? Contact the medical billing office. Explain why you believe there has been a mistake, and ask them to correct the error. Give them a reasonable amount of time to correct the mistake, but be sure to follow up and make sure it was in fact fixed. Ask for the name of the person you talk to, and, if possible, get their direct extension so you can follow up with them personally.
Insurance not paying your bills, or covering less than you expected? Review the claim with your insurance company. Explain why you think they are wrong and what actions are needed to get it fixed. If they did make a mistake, find out when the claim will be updated, and when the hospital will receive payment. If you have to take action (for example, if they need more information from you in order to make a determination), understand exactly what it is that they need you to do and when you have to do it. Confirm the conversation with your insurance company representative through a letter or e-mail, and keep copies for your files.
Insurance claim denied? Get a written explanation of denial. If your claim is denied, make sure your insurance company explains in writing exactly why they won’t cover your costs. Then, use the insurance company’s appeal process as soon as possible to dispute it if you think you’ve been wrongly denied.
What if you just can’t pay?
First and foremost, don’t stick your head in the sand! Ignoring bills won’t make them go away — and can cause more problems you’ll need to deal with down the road. If you can’t pay your medical bills, contact your medical provider to work out a payment plan. Many providers also have financial counselors on staff who can help you understand your options. If you find yourself behind on bill payments, keep the following tips in mind as well:
Maintain your credit rating. Try to keep the bill from being turned over to a collections agency to avoid damage to your credit. Don’t expect an agency to call your insurance company or vice versa. You’ll need to stay in contact with both, and keep them updated. If you have a past-due bill in collections because your claim was denied, keep working with your insurance company until it’s settled — the collection agency won’t do this for you. You should, however, write to the collections agency and explain the situation so that it’s documented with your account. Try setting up a long-term payment plan with the agency. That may stop them from reporting negative information about you to the credit bureaus.
Don’t let your health insurance coverage lapse. You may think you’re better off redirecting your monthly premium payments to cover your medical bills, but if something happens again, your financial problems will only get worse. Also, your recent illness may be considered a pre-existing condition that prevents you from getting coverage when you apply for a new policy.
Look for ways to save on your health insurance premiums. Talk to your insurance agent about increasing your deductible or co-payment amount. If you have a child in college, see if it has a low-cost health insurance plan that would allow you to take your child off your plan. Finally, a secondary plan might pay medical bills not covered by your primary plan. For example, your spouse’s group plan may give you some benefits. Or, if Medicare is your primary insurance, you may have a secondary policy through a retirement plan, another group plan, or an individual plan.
Managing your health can be challenging, and managing the bills that come along with it can seem overwhelming. If you take the actions above, however, you can improve your chances of staying financially fit.