By Stacie Prada
Medical bills can be daunting to track when a person is healthy and only has a few appointments a year. When a person is injured or has a chronic illness, the number of medical bills and insurance statements that arrive by mail can be staggering. Compounding the confusion is that they’re often confusing to read and understand. Trying to track them and know which bill has been covered, denied or ignored can be overwhelming. It can also get very expensive if you end up paying for things your insurance should cover.
Keeping a checklist and single filing spot for these medical bills and insurance statements lends some order to the chaos and helps reduce the stress of dealing with financial tasks. It took me a while to come up with this method, and it has since evolved to a pretty simple method it works for me.
I created a checklist to track each visit with information needed to track payment. I use a fresh checklist for each doctor’s visit, MRI scan or lab test since each one may require working with different billing companies. I print these on 4×6 index cards, but you could use any size paper that works for you. I’ve included a blank Medical Bill Tracking Sheet and one that I’ve filled in as an example in this post.
- After a medical appointment, fill in the top of a Medical Bill Tracking sheet with the year, provider and the date the Appointment/service provided.
- When a bill or insurance statement arrives in the mail, open it, read it, and add notes to the tracking sheet. Staple the bill or insurance statement to the back of the tracking sheet. Any time a new piece of mail arrives regarding that appointment; staple it to the back of the tracking sheet. It will build up to a stack of papers that all relate to that appointment.
- For an insurance statement, see if it was paid or denied. Often, if it’s denied, they’re really asking for additional information before making a final decision on the claim. You’ll have a time limit to provide the information, so it’s important to read it and understand what it says.
- If you have more than one insurance plan, coordination of benefits can become a part time job. Get used to calling each of the insurance providers to ask who has covered what and what they need to keep processing the payment. You may need to call the other insurance company or medical provider for information to fax to another company. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on hold when you call. Take good notes and get used to being your own financial advocate.
- If you receive a bill from the provider, look to see if insurance has covered anything. If it’s not listed on the bill, call the provider to see if they’ll bill your insurance. If not, you may need to submit the bill to your insurance company yourself. I’ve often had instances where the bill wasn’t paid by my insurance company, but when I called the provider I was able to confirm my insurance information and have them resubmit the bill to insurance.
- Sometimes the provider doesn’t hear back from insurance and will send you a bill for the full amount. If that’s the case, call your insurance company and ask what the status of payment is. I’ve had providers frustrated that they hadn’t received payment after billing insurance. One year each time I called my insurance company, the representative would ask questions about the date of service and provider’s billing date before telling me the bill was in process and would be paid next week. It seemed like a game and too coincidental for every bill, but I just factored it in to the process for moving it along.
- Once insurance has paid for medical expenses covered under your policy, you should receive a bill from your provider for any amount you owe. Make sure it matches what your insurance statement says you owe. If you’re not able to pay it in full, call them and see if they’ll offer a sliding scale or payment plan.
- Remember there are national and community assistance programs available for people without insurance or ability to pay for their health care. Call MSAA to see if they offer assistance or if they can suggest another organization that may be able to help.
- File all of these tracking packets that have been paid in full and are done in one place. You may need them to confirm payment was received if duplicate bills are sent before they receive payment. If you receive a duplicate bill, staple it to the stack. Don’t throw anything away in case the provider doesn’t apply your payment correctly.
- If you talk to anyone along the way, write it on the bill or the tracking sheet. Know and write down the name of the person you talked to, the date, and what was said. Being friendly and knowledgeable goes a long way to clearing up any confusion and getting help from people to resolve any problems.
Things to know about your medical insurance coverage:
- Deductible amount for each year
- The out of pocket maximum your policy covers, if applicable
- If your policy includes a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) the amount you’ve earned for the year.
Knowing this information will help you anticipate how much money you may need to dedicate to your health expenses each year. I assume I’ll need to pay the maximum out of pocket amount each year, and I budget that amount for the beginning of the calendar year. It’s also handy if you itemize taxes and need to know what you spent on medical expenses during the year. Another benefit of having your records in order is that someone else could understand the status of your bills if you need someone to step in and assist you.
Keeping my finances in order allows me to avoid a lot of stress and time wasted figuring out what’s been done and what hasn’t. While the instructions for tracking this may seem obvious, it’s nice to be able to go back to the steps and checklist when the volume of paperwork gets overwhelming.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/