If you or a loved one has had a major illness, you may find that you have a confusing array of medical bills left after the illness. Getting the paperwork organized so that you know what you are dealing with will help reduce the stress.
Here are steps that you should take to regain control:
- Organize your bills. Get control of the paperwork by grouping the bills in a way that makes sense to you, for instance, by in-patient facility, health care provider or by month. Get folders and label them so that you can easily see what is in each folder.
- Organize your payment information. Gather information from your checkbook, cash receipts, or credit cards so that you will know what has been paid, to whom, and when.
- If you have insurance, collect your EOB (explanation of benefits) documents and put them in order. You can either put them in date order or put each document next to the medical bills that correspond to them.
- Audit the medical bills. Check to be certain that you have been given credit for any payments made. Make sure that the health care provider has given you credit for any participating plan reductions ("negotiated or allowed" amount of fee). Do this by comparing your payment information and EOBs to the medical bills.
- Ask for an itemized bill. Audit the bill for accurate dates or double charges, and ask questions if you don’t understand a charge. Remember, unintentional mistakes are made, even with computer-generated bills.
- If you have insurance, make sure that you are getting the benefits that your plan entitles you to have. For instance, if you see that you have been billed a higher co-payment for being “out of network”, but you don’t believe that is accurate, call and speak with your insurance company. In some situations, you may be able to have the charges reconsidered and paid at a higher rater (for instance, if it was an emergency or if there was not an in-network provider available).
- Talk with the hospital or provider to inform them of the “big picture”. If you have several thousand dollars in medical bills because of a catastrophic illness you may be able to receive a reduction in the bills or a payment plan. Some facilities have specific guidelines for situations in which there has been a catastrophic illness, or there is little or no insurance coverage. Telling your story and sending small regular payments may prevent your bills from going to a collection company.
- If you are the surviving spouse and are looking at “last illness” bills, you may want to have a legal consult. A probate attorney can assist you by helping you plan how to pay the bills and manage the funds of the estate.
- Seek professional assistance from an attorney if you need help with understanding your insurance contract, debtor/creditor law, formulating a plan for paying your debts or other legal aspects of your situation.
Editor's Note: this post was originally published on December 29, 2010 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.