5 Things You Should Do Before Paying a Medical Bill

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1:Verify your information.
First check that the bill was in fact run through your insurance and that your insurance information is correct, says Adria Gross, a medical billing advocate and the founder of MedWise Insurance Advocacy. Occasionally, a billing company will mail a bill without running it through insurance. Or there might just be an error—even leaving one number off your insurance ID can make it seem like your policy is invalid.

2 :Ask for an itemized list.

Providers should send a line-item breakdown that shows how they came up with the total. If your bill doesn’t have one, ask for it. Then make sure everything on the bill is a test, medication, or service you received during your appointment or hospital stay.

3: Research billing codes.

Every medical procedure has a corresponding billing code, which your doctor’s office enters to tell insurers what was done and help them process the claim. If you were denied coverage for a procedure, suss out whether the wrong code was used: Type the code from your bill or insurance claim into a code search tool, like the one on findacode.com. If you notice a potential error, ask your doctor’s office about it. They may be able to resubmit your claim with corrected coding. “I also recommend asking your insurer how a procedure needs to be coded to get covered.”

4: Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

Even if you’ve done your homework, triple-checked your bill for accuracy, and appealed, you may still end up owing more than you can afford. If that’s the case, go to healthcarebluebook.com or fairhealthconsumer.org to get a sense of what a reasonable charge for the service is; that will give you a negotiating starting point. People want to get paid, so if they see you’re making an effort to tackle the bill, providers should be willing to set up a payment plan and work within your financial constraints. They may even offer a lower lump-sum cost.

5: Take care of it quickly.

Don’t let that bill drift to the bottom of your to-do list. Call the billing office (or your insurance company, if it handles payment for you) as soon as you can if you think you’ve found an error. If you don’t contact the billing office or pay the bill, the provider can send it to a collection agency. The agency can then notify credit bureaus about your debt. Medical debts that are less than six months past due don’t show up on your credit report, so if you can, resolve the bill before it has a chance to appear there.

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