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    Tools for Managing Medical Bills

    By Lisa Zamosky

    If you’ve ever had surgery or have a chronic health condition that requires you to regularly seek medical services, you’re likely familiar with the barrage of paperwork – explanations of benefits and medical bills from hospitals and multiple doctors – that follows your medical care.

    Keeping track of what you owe can be extremely challenging, particularly when you consider the high percentage of medical bills that contain errors. Gone unchecked, medical billing mistakes can cost consumers thousands of additional dollars.

    Understanding how best to manage your medical bills has larger implications for your financial health as well. See this previous blog in which I discuss with the Today Show’s financial editor, Jean Chatzky, the impact medical debt can have on your credit score.

    Over the past several years a number of online tools and medical billing services have come onto the market to help consumers keep track of medical expenses, automatically identify medical billing errors and even allow patients to pay their medical bills online with a credit or ATM card. Here are just a few services available.

    Using Online Tools

    Quicken Health Expense Tracker: If you’re insured by UnitedHealthcare, CIGNA, or Medical Mutual of Ohio, with your permission your health plan can make information available to this website, which then keeps track of your medical bills. Quicken Health Expense Tracker explains how much your health plan has paid for services and what you owe. It also explains various services listed on explanations of benefits (EOBs) in plain speak consumers can understand. The service, which is free, automatically identifies billing errors and offers advice as to how to go about correcting them.

    Smart Medical Consumer: Three different services are offered through this website, which helps consumers manage medical expenses and keep track of all medical billing paperwork. You can also ask for help from billing experts and tap into a community if you’re interested in connecting with other consumers facing billing issues similar to yours.

    Personalized Service

    Medical Bill Review Services, Inc.: For an hourly fee, this professional consulting firm takes more of a hands-on approach by helping consumers identify medical billing errors as well as acting as an advocate to help fight a denied claim or correct a billing error. In addition, annual service plans starting at 5 per person per year will buy you ongoing help organizing all of your medical paperwork, filing claims and appeals, as well as a host of other services.

    Health Proponent: Health Proponent also takes a more active approach in helping consumers manage medical bills and identify billing errors. Other tools, including an online medical record (something I’ll get into in greater detail in another post) aimed at helping you better manage your health are also available. An annual fee of .95 per year for a family (which includes your in-laws) gives you access to experts who can identify billing errors and negotiate uncovered medical or dental bills on your behalf.

    HealthCPA: As soon as bills come to you, you can ship them right off to HealthCPA, which will set you up with a personal online page where all of your information is stored. Proprietary software and billing advocates then audit your bills and insurance claims to make sure you’re not overcharged. It will tell you which of the bills you’ve received following care you actually owe and should pay. You can sign on for .95 per month for ongoing monitoring. Extra help is also available at an hourly rate.

    Employer-Based Help

    If you get your health insurance at work, it’s a good idea to ask (if you don’t already know) what, if any, free services are made available to employees to assist with medical bills, and other forms of patient advocacy.

    A number of vendors, including Health Advocate and change:healthcare, are paid by midsize and large companies to help employees understand, negotiate and manage their health care bills. They also offer a range of pricing information and other tools useful for making health care decisions based on a mix of quality and cost.

    Tell me what you know: Have you used any online resources to manage your medical bills? Do you know of a great resource I failed to mention? Please share what you know in the comments section.

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