Seven Steps for Managing Medical Bills

    “Seven Steps for Managing Medical Bills,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 72

    Seven Steps for Managing Medical Bills

    More than a hundred bills. That’s what my friend had to face in the year following her mother’s three-month illness. Even though her mother had insurance, my friend had to make sure all the statements were paid. The details overwhelmed her, especially since she was trying to care for her still-ailing mother at the same time.

    At some time during your life, you will probably face major medical expenses for yourself or someone in your family. Knowing this, you can plan and prepare ahead so that you will know how to proceed when a crisis hits. Following are seven easy steps that will help you manage medical bills—no matter how many.

    1. Read your medical insurance policies. Be sure you understand them. Be aware of all restrictions. Know what you will have to pay; approximately one-fourth of all medical bills are paid out of pocket.

      If the policies contain anything you don’t understand, ask your insurance agent or the company’s representative to explain. If you live in the U.S. and use Medicare, you can find that information number in the community services section of your local telephone book.

    2. Keep a diary of all medical care. If you can’t, ask your spouse, parent, adult child, or a friend to do it for you. Include all key events: hospital admission and release dates; intensive care dates; physical, occupational, respiratory, and other types of therapy. Record treatment changes as they occur. Note when IVs and special medications start and stop. Even note when regular meals start again. Get the name of every doctor who provides services; this includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, mental health professionals, and specialists who are called in as consultants. Record every visit they make. Each of these people will send you a separate bill.

    3. Request billing statements that itemize each service or supply you receive. Most hospitals categorize each service and item with a specified code number and fee. An explanation of the code should be printed somewhere on the bill. Specific costs are usually in the far right column of the bill and total accumulated costs in the bottom right corner. The amount your insurance has paid will be next to the total cost, and the final figure is usually the amount of money you still owe.

    4. Scrutinize every bill. This is where a diary proves its worth. Compare it with the hospital statements and doctor bills. Verify that you received every service or item on the bill, that the cost did not change during treatment, and that the price is reasonable.

    5. Contact the billing offices of all health care providers. You can do this even before you start to receive bills. Find out who will be handling your account and stay in touch with that person. He or she can show you how to read statements, fill out forms, and take care of insurance.

    6. Keep a record of each bill you receive and every payment you and your insurance company make, along with the date of action. Make a record form that works for you. For example, you might turn a sheet of graph paper on its side. Across the top, make eight columns: Statement Number, Name, Date Received, Date First Insurance/We Paid, Amount, Date Second Insurance Paid, Amount, Date Total Bill Paid.

      Such a form lets you see the status of each bill at a glance.

      After you have recorded this information, make a copy of every bill and payment receipt. File these copies in a separate place from the originals and update them when you update the originals.

    7. If you have questions, wish to challenge excessive charges, or need help understanding the hospital bill, contact the hospital’s patient representative. His or her job is to help you.

    Using these seven steps gives you the tools to manage major medical bills. But even better, it can give you peace of mind at an already stressful time.—Judith Tweedie, San Jose, California