Friday, March 07, 2008

From the Vault: Check Your Medical Bills for Errors

This post--about absurd errors in medical bills -- is one of my favorites from my vault:

My parents — retirees on Space Coast of Florida — have become especially vigilant about scrutinizing medical bills after spotting errors on a hospital bill a few years ago. While they were grateful for the excellent care, my folks were less than thrilled about questionable charges for phantom treatments.“We successfully challenged the charges and they took it off,” my mother said. “You can go directly to the billing department and ask for an itemized bill.”

Annually, consumers and insurance companies are hit by about $54 billion in either fraudulent or illegal medical charges, according to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA), a nonprofit foundation. And while medical scams account for a large percentage of those charges, billing errors also contribute to the toll. Erroneous charges — including genuine mistakes — are often veiled by complex billing codes and undecipherable medical terms.Some billing errors seem absurd.

For example,, a South Florida-based independent research company — reports that billing errors have included $129 for a “mucous recovery system,” also known as a box of tissues. That fiscal care is recommended by the experts at and NHCAA. Here is a rundown of other steps that you can take to safeguard your financial health.

• Know your benefits. Closely review health care documents and track the paperwork from your insurance carrier, physician and hospital. Read every “Explanation of Benefits” statement, which provides a rundown of billing charges. Report any discrepancies to your insurance carrier and to the hospital.

• Scrutinize “free” medical services. Although many community groups and non-profit organizations offer legitimate free medical screenings — blood pressure, vision, cholesterol test — there are also fraudulent operations that use so-called free services to gain access to your personal data, including your insurance information.

• Safeguard your health insurance card. Treat it like a credit card. “In the wrong hands, a health insurance card is a license to steal,” according to the NHCAA.

• Establish a medical log. Your records should include a list of tests, procedures, treatments and medications. recommends that you ask a relative or friend to do the record-keeping if necessary. Those notes will be helpful if you need to challenge hospital charges.

• Bring your own prescriptions. If you will be taking everyday maintenance medicine (for high-blood pressure or diabetes) while in the hospital, you’ll save a bundle by bringing your own. Check with your doctor.

• Don’t be shy. Call the hospital or office billing department for a full explanation of confusing, questionable or obscure charges.Also if you don't have medical insurance, there are options for getting discounts for prescription drugs. This post is helpful:Cheap Drugs


Kathryn said...

I'm really glad to see someone pointing this out. It's amazing what kind of medical charges can be racked up if you aren't paying attention to them (such as 'mucus delivery systems!) My own problems have come from the fact that a stop at the doctor and a little bloodwork resulted in about ten different bills because of the way their billing system works; turns out that there were charges doubled on them but I didn't realize it right away because the bills were all coming in at different times. What a mess!

It's also important for people to note that your medical bills are actually negotiable in some cases and you shouldn't hesitate to try to get your doctor to decrease the bill if it's truly exorbitant.

The Frugal Immigrant said...

$129 for mucus delivery systems is quite a lot. But this is nothing compared to the following example from about 5 years ago:

How about a $35 bill for a 1/200 (1 dose) of a 200 dose $6 generic asthma medication, delivered at time of visit? This amounts to a WHOPPING 116666.66% profit!!!

Nobody asks you if you wanted it.
Nobody asks you if you have medical insurance that MAY cover it (we didn't at that time).
Nobody asks you if you need it.

In my notebook - this is Fraud with Capital F!

And then the government in power is pretending that lawsuits were hiking up the price of insurance - NO! It's the lawsuits that HELP keep such frauds at bay and to small(er) amounts usually.

I'll probably post some more on this on my blog at a later date, but in the meantime - Thank you for letting me vent some steam!