Paperwork: Medical Bills and Benefits

Let’s face it: Paying medical bills can be daunting. Even the simplest doctor’s office visit can result in a parade of bills and statements with numbers upon numbers. And if you’re dealing with a serious illness – like cancer or major surgery – it can seem like there’s no end to the bills, and the charges can be overwhelming.

But it can be managed. The trick? Take it slowly. Be methodical. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Following are some guidelines.

• Create files. At the very least, have one file for medical bills, one for the “Explanation of Benefits” (EOB) you’ll get after each healthcare visit and one for other paperwork. You might also want separate files for each family member, or for specific illnesses or problems.

• Get it in writing. Before leaving a provider’s office, ask for a print-out of all services you received at that visit. Make sure it’s accurate. When you get home, put it in the “other paperwork” file.

• Open your mail. When you get a bill, open it and compare it to the print-out you got from the provider’s office. If everything checks out, put it in the medical bills file; if not, call your provider to clear up any discrepancies. Don’t pay it yet.

• Review the EOB. When you receive the EOB, compare it to any bills you’ve received to make sure all of the charges and benefits make sense. According to some research, as many as 8 out of 10 medical bills contain errors, so check carefully. Then put file the EOB and the bill you’ve received together in your medical bills file … but don’t pay it yet.

• Review the adjusted bill. Next you should receive a bill that shows an adjusted charge, taking into account your insurer’s negotiated price and any deductibles or out-of-pocket limits you might have. Once again, compare the bill to the EOB and other documents. If all looks good, pay the bill, staple all the documents together and put them in a “paid bills” file. If there’s a problem, contact your provider.

• Break the code. If you do talk to someone about problems with a bill, you might hear that the provided services were “coded” incorrectly. If so, your best option is usually to ask your healthcare provider to get it corrected.

• Get help. If you’re running into walls or find yourself stymied by charges and bills, your employer’s human resources team should be able to help you, and your provider often can help, as well.

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