Are You Throwing Away Money on Medical Bill Errors?

Ever receive a bill for a visit to the doctor’s office that just made your jaw drop? We all know that medical care can be outrageously expensive, but paying $400 for what amounts to three aspirin and a hearty clap on the back has a way of making you feel it in your bones. Still, there’s something even worse than overcharging, and that’s being charged for something that never happened at all. How do you detect errors in your medical bill, and what do you do when you find them?

For those of us who didn’t go to school for medicine or accounting, an invoice for complex procedures or multiple prescriptions can look like a document written in an alien language. The scientific nomenclature can be dizzying, and the judgments of the insurance company aren’t explained. But according to the Medical Billing Advocates of America, eight out of every 10 medical bills contain mistakes, some of them severe, and if it happens to you, you’re going to want to fight back. The good news is that you can. The bad news is that you’re going to have to pick that invoice apart.

Look for double charges. Check for prescriptions that were never administered during your hospital stay. Even misplaced decimal points are possible, and we all know what that means. This can be a complicated endeavor for non-experts, but a medical billing advocate can help you locate the errors that explain your overcharge. And there’s even help to be found in the App Store. A new app called Simplee can help you uncover the truth about what you owe and why you owe it.

So what happens if you do find a mistake? Calling the hospital or your doctor to ask about the error is a good first step – that way you’ll learn the reason for the charge you’re disputing. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be prepared to call your insurance representative to get a better understanding of your situation. These two entities will often have to work together to sort out the mess they made.

But be patient, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. It’s a bad idea to take a principled stand and outright refuse to pay your medical bills, because even if you know you’re in the right, letting your unpaid bill roll over to a collection agency will do serious damage to your credit. In fact, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, having as little as $100 in unpaid debt can lower your credit score by 100 points. It’s always best to pay off your bill and let your insurance company or medical billing advocate correct the error retroactively. This safeguards you against trouble with future loans or mortgage rates because of a low credit score.

Visiting the doctor is never cheap, but you shouldn’t have to fork over more dough than necessary. Take the time to go over any medical invoices that come your way, and be prepared to fight it if you uncover an error. Above all, remember that while refusing to pay a bill may feel good right now, doing damage to your credit score will have a lasting negative impact. Be alert, be diligent and, most importantly, be wise.

What kinds of medical bill disputes have you been forced to deal with? Any advice for those who find themselves in the middle of such a mess? Share your thoughts in the comments below.