Health care bills are notoriously confusing. Of course, Medicare all by itself is a maze, but beyond that there’s also the out-of-pocket expenses that Medicare doesn’t cover. These can be a significant financial obligation: almost $200,000 for a married couple over the course of their retirement according to one estimate. Here are some steps you can take to try to make these expenses more manageable.
1. Use in-network providers
Whenever possible, use in-network providers for all your care. This can lower your bill tremendously, as in-network providers have previously negotiated what they’ll charge with your insurance company. Take the time to sit down with your plan to understand what is covered and what isn’t. This can result in significant savings, both immediately for particular medical events and over time.
2. Examine your bill closely
Whenever we get a bill, many of us will quickly write a check out of habit, wanting to be prompt and on top of these sort of things. However, it’s worth taking the time to go over medical bills line-by-line, as they frequently contain errors and services that you or your loved one didn’t receive (as often as 80% of the time!). This is the time to be a pain and question anything you don’t understand: don’t pay until you’re confident about what you’re paying for. You’ll also want to verify the basics, such as your name, address and date of service. You may be surprised at how often it’s worth it and that being thorough leads to savings. Plus, it’s a much better idea to do this up front. If you discover an error later, it may be very difficult to get a refund from the provider after you’ve paid. Unfortunately, they’ll tend to be more responsive when they’re eager to get the matter resolved and have your payment in hand.
3. Verify that the bill has been adjusted for insurance payment
One important item to note when reviewing your bill is whether the different line items have been adjusted to reflect the insurance rates. If you don’t see this, insurance was not applied. You should contact the office right away to make sure they run the charges through your insurance first.
4. Check the bill against your EOB
You should never pay a medical bill without getting an EOB from your insurance company first. This document will verify what you’re supposed to pay. This is an important step for eliminating possible errors. Be wary if the bill arrives much sooner than the EOB does–this means that the medical provider has not received payment from your insurance company yet.
5. Be proactive
Don’t just let errors slide–contact both your insurance company and the provider to resolve billing issues. Often it will be important to be persistent: sadly, larger companies will try to win in these disputes by ignoring you sometimes. At the same time, make sure you keep the lines of communication open with all parties. If you are waiting to hear from your insurance company before you pay the doctor, let their office know what the delay is. Otherwise, they may be very quick to assume that you’re trying to dodge the bill and send the account to collections. This will be counterproductive, resulting in more unnecessary charges and time spent resolving the issue.
Even if you don’t have insurance, you can try asking providers if they’ll charge you the same rate they charge insurance companies. Also, if a bill is more than you can afford right away, see if the provider will lower it in exchange for faster payment. You can also try asking for financial assistance. Some providers will let you pay in interest-free installments or work out some other reasonable arrangement. They would much rather get the bill paid than have you feel the situation is hopeless and ignore it.