The Best 4-Step Plan to Manage Your Medical Correspondence

By Heather Johnson on 30 October 2009 (Updated 1 March 2010) 2 comments

If you've ever seen a doctor or been covered by health insurance, you'll relate to this. You sift through a pile of mail, and in it are two letters from your health insurer, a couple more from your doctor, one from your dentist, a packet from your employer's HR department, and something else from your Flexible Spending Administrator. If you have any kind of chronic illness or have recently switched insurance, the volume of this correspondence could be significant. How do you process the deluge of statements, notices, and bills for your healthcare? As with any good personal finance problem, there is a 4-step plan.

While many insurers are allowing members to opt out of hardcopy mail in favor of emailed statements and e-alerts, the same concepts still apply as they would with hardcopy mail. Each piece of information you receive needs to be processed. Processing them with these four steps could make the difference between overlooking important pieces of information due to disorganization or staying a step ahead of your medical providers and payers and getting your bills resolved correctly.

1. Is it relevant or is it junk?

As with other types of correspondence you receive, the first thing to determine is if what you received from your insurer, provider, or employer is junk or relevant. Many pieces of correspondence that are relevant to you and should not immediately be discarded. A good rule of thumb is that anything pertaining to a specific medical service (bill, statement, Explanation of Benefits (EOB)) is probably something you'll want to either review carefully or save for future reference. Other pieces — standard privacy disclosures, announcements about services, and other form mailers — can probably be quickly discarded after a quick once-over.

One word of caution: During your employer's open-enrollment season, be a little extra cautious about what you toss out. This is a time of year when it is worth doing an extra review of that seemingly low-value mail, as it could inform you of an important benefit or enrollment deadline. More than one person has had to spend hours correcting a benefits problem because the piece of paper they tossed out needed to be filled out and returned by a deadline.

Doing this first triage step alone should get rid of a third or more of the medical documentation you receive.

2. Does it pertain to an unresolved medical bill or recent service?

They key word here is "unresolved". Any documentation you receive related to a medical service that has yet to be settled, either by you or your insurance, should be saved in some sort of "active" file. It is likely that you will want to cross-reference an EOB from an insurer with the bill from the provider. In many cases, such as a Labor and Delivery, there might be multiple medical bills that you will need to compare with your EOBs to make sure everything ties together. If digging into an EOB is at all intimidating or confusing, you may find this guide on how to read an EOB helpful.

On the other hand, if the correspondence you receive simply refers to some past medical bill or service that you believe has been paid accurately, such as an EOB showing that your insurer paid in full, you can skip to step 4.

3. Do you need to call someone?

Occasionally, you will open a piece of correspondence that sets off a red flag: Your insurance has denied an entire claim. Your doctor billed you $350 for a flu shot. Your provider says the entire bill is your responsibility because they have no insurance on file, even though you are fully covered. In these cases, pick up the phone and talk to whoever the information is from. HealthHarbor's guide to dealing with health insurance denials can help point you in the right direction on who to call and what to say if it is more than a simple issue.

In most cases, your healthcare provider's office and your insurer will both have customer service representatives who can help with the more basic issues. If it becomes complex, get ready for multiple calls or written correspondence, complete with whatever documentation you've filed away for that visit or service. Don't forget about the patient's secret weapon when it comes to insurance issues — your employer's benefits department. They carry much clout as the ultimate buyer of insurance policies.

4. File, shred, or submit to your FSA?

Once you've gone through the above three steps — you've determined if correspondence is even relevant, you know if it refers to an open or closed medical bill, and you are satisfied that you don't need to straighten out any problems, you can file or shred the documentation.

For any service that has yet to be fully resolved financially, keep the documentation in a folder exclusive to either open medical bills or that particular service, depending on your level of organization. If the service has been paid, you can either place the document in a longer-term file (if you are the filing type) or simply shred the document. We recommend shredding due to the sensitive nature of many medical documents. Before you do, however, make sure nothing on the bill — such as a copay — can be submitted to your Flexible Spending. If so, process it and wait for the reimbursement check to come or funds to show up in your bank account before shredding the documentation.

Keep in mind that most larger insurers now give you access to EOBs and other documents online, so filing paper isn't as important as it used to be.

In short, each step of this process should reduce the amount of paper you have floating around your desk. More importantly, it will separate the wheat from the chafe when it comes to healthcare documents. Knowing which one or two of those ten documents are really important, and which require action, will help you use your time well and get the most from your health insurance and medical providers.

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Zengirl

I preffer hard copy bills, it has been helpful. A few months ago, we got a bill from doctor from 11 months ago, which we did not remembered even, we had luckily kept all papers so we dug through it to find right insurance info and paid the bill.

Sometimes, maternity and labor bills keep coming till your child is 1 year old. I have 8 month now and I am still getting a few labor bills, go figure!

Keep everything per year, per family members for atleast 5 years or you change insurance.

Guest's picture

We get billed all the time from doctors, labs, pharmacies who want more than the insurance paid them. Not always sure IF we owe it!

John DeFlumeri Jr.