Protecting Yourself from Medical Billing Mistakes
Even though many of us may take our health for granted, one thing that strikes a chord in everyone is the high price of medical care. Between the rising cost of routine doctor visits and medication to the regular increases in our insurance premiums, health care is on most people’s minds.
And yet, how many of us really take the time to understand all that we’re being charged for? Granted, medical bills can read as if they were written in another language, and for all intents and purposes, they are. That is because medicine, not unlike law, is filled with the esoteric language of the profession. Sprinkle in a generous amount of Latin, and it can leave you feeling pretty helpless and lost.
Furthermore, many of us don’t go to see a doctor or a lawyer until we need one, and at that point we are not necessarily in the best position to argue every nickel and dime. On the other hand, is complete ignorance the answer? Or is it better to take the time to understand all that we are being charged for, even if it’s a hassle and may intimidate us?
Well, it’s worth it when you consider this: as seen recently on Good Morning America, it turns out that up to 80% of medical bills contain errors in them, according to Medical Billing Advocates of America. These errors arise from a variety of sources, from simple clerical errors like typos or duplicate charges, to more serious incidences that include charging patients for drugs or services that were never rendered and inflating the price of drugs or supplies. And, of course, there is always the possibility of outright fraud.
Whatever the reason, the end result is the same - it ends up costing you more. Medical debt, after all, is the second leading cause of bankruptcy in this country, second only to credit card debt. And to make matters worse, these mistakes might even result in your insurance carrier refusing to cover services that you might need.
It is therefore important to take the time to really understand what you’re paying for, even if the people who are supposed to answer your questions (that would include doctors, nurses and hospital administrators) are not going out of their way to help you.
So in an effort to protect your rights as a patient and possibly even save some money, keep these things in mind the next time you get your bill:
1. Read your bill. Pay attention to every charge, making sure that things are in order. If something seems wrong, like a redundant charge or something you don’t recognize, ask questions. And don’t worry if they don’t seem thrilled to decipher every acronym for you. It’s your money, not theirs, so take the time to account for every charge, and if they can’t help you, ask for someone who can.
2. Know your options. Question high charges for everyday things that cost a lot less outside the hospital, like tissue or bandages, and find out if you have lower cost options. This is especially true for prescription medication, where generic equivalents that do the same job can cost a lot less.
3. Keep track of time. For a hospital stay, keep careful track of the duration that you are there and understand how they charge for your stay. The cost of an additional day could amount to hundreds of dollars in extra expense.
4. Be organized. Keep careful records of your conditions, including when they were first diagnosed or treated. Insurance companies can be picky about things like pre-existing conditions that could lead to a denial of coverage.
5. Be persistent, and don’t give in too easily. This is important when dealing with your doctor’s office as well as your insurance company. If you’re not satisfied with a response, keep trying until you get an answer. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and the people who are helping you are not as invested in your interests (it’s your money) and more than likely won’t be as enthusiastic to resolve the issue, so it’s up to you.
6. Talk to people. This includes friends, relatives, and colleagues. Chances are they’ve traveled through the medical maze themselves or know someone who has and can offer some advice.
7. Seek out help. If it seems as if your efforts are going nowhere, there are professional services that can help. Outside of getting an attorney, several advocacy groups have formed designed specifically to help people sort out their medical bills, and a simple Google search for “medical billing errors” will turn them up. They generally charge a fee, but it can be worth it if they end up saving you thousands of dollars, and many of them work on a contingency basis.
It you think you might be the victim of fraud, contact your insurance company or the FBI. For more information, the website of the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association can provide information and advice.
Whatever you do, be informed, because your money and your health might be at stake. Always keep in mind, however, that hospitals are not necessarily out to rip you off and many of these situations arise from simple and innocent human errors that can easily be resolved if you just take the time.
And time, as the saying goes, is money. Speaking of which, maybe the next step will be to find out what all those legal fees that lawyers charge are actually for.
Then again, you’d probably have to hire an attorney to do that.
Do you have a medical billing experience that you'd like to share with us? If so, we'd love to hear it, and thanks.