Medical bills can be difficult to decipher, but some basic strategies can help. Image: Flickr / garnet / CC-BY-SA

Medical billing errors are a reality of the United States medical industry that cost about $68 billion per year. If you have recently received or will be receiving medical bills, knowing how to spot these errors can save you thousands of dollars.

Know your health insurance deductible

Health insurance is incredibly complicated for most people. There are a few base numbers, however, that can help save you money, if you keep track of them. First and foremost is your deductible. If you have reached your deductible for the year, then insurance should be paying the full amount. Keep tabs on your deductible with a spreadsheet, a note to yourself, or even a running tally on a piece of paper. When you get your bill, make sure to either apply the amount to the deductible or make sure insurance is paying its full share.

Look up the codes

There are hundreds of thousands of medical billing codes that indicate what type of service you may have received during a medical visit. You should be able to look up the billing codes to find what the bill is for. These codes are usually called CPT codes – Current Procedural Terminology codes. Try searching the web for “CPT + code.” If the code matches your service, great. If not, you should inquire.

Keep your own notes

Especially if you are in a hospital for long-term medical treatment, you should keep your own basic notes on the dates of your stay and the procedures performed. Often a medical billing error is something as basic as entering the wrong dates. Comparing the bills you receive to your notes can help ensure that your medical bills are entirely accurate. If a particular code or date shows up too many times on your bill, then it could be an indication you are being double or triple charged. Your own notes can also help cut down on costs come tax time, when medical bills could be deductible from your taxes.

Fight the charge carefully

If you do find a medical billing error in either your initial bills or in the insurance statement, you should address it as quickly as possible. Call your insurance company first, because they have the most motivation to ensure that billing is correct. Ask to speak to someone in the billing department, and explain the error you believe exists to them. Keep a very careful record of the date and time of each call, and the name of the person you talked to. Each time you have to call back, refer to your previous conversations that are relevant to the question at hand.


Wall Street Journal
Consumer Reports
Kaiser Health News

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