MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Healthcare in this country is expensive, even more so when you factor in billing mistakes. Nearly a third of all medical bills have such errors, according to a healthcare billing industry group. So how can you avoid these errors? Michelle Singletary is our regular personal finance expert. She had some answers for my colleague, Alex Chadwick.
ALEX CHADWICK reporting:
Michelle, welcome back, and what is the most common medical billing mistake?
Ms. MICHELLE SINGLETARY (Author; Business Analyst, The Washington Post): The most common is double billing. In other words, they bill you for two procedures, two of the same pill, and you only took one. That's what most experts find.
CHADWICK: Okay, double-billing. What else?
Ms. SINGLETARY: Well, you should look for typos; you should look for incorrect dates of service. They may say you were in the hospital ten days, when you actually were only in there five days. They may charge you for operating time, when, say, you were in the operating room only two hours, and they may bill you for four hours; so, all those kinds of things, you need to pay attention to.
CHADWICK: That's a lot to be paying attention to when you're really mostly focused on am I going to get better or what's going on; what about my family, all those kinds of things. I mean, how do you--how do you prepare yourself to be mentally alert enough to catch all this stuff?
Ms. SINGLETARY: My daughter was ill several years ago and in the hospital for a very long time, two months, and we were getting bills constantly, but what you have to do is--my husband and I share the responsibility of looking over the bills, so when they came in, we made sure we got a detailed itemized look of the bills, and we just sort of checked it, and then he might do it for one set of bills, and the next one came in, I did it. But you've got to do that because there's a lot of things going on, and you want to be sure that you aren't paying more or your insurers, especially if you've got a limit in how much they'll cover.
CHADWICK: And what do you do in the event that you discover an error; I mean, you can write them back and say, hey, you're wrong, the operation took less time than you say or I didn't even get that operation, or I was in there five days instead of ten days, and they write back and say, well, these are our records.
Ms. SINGLETARY: If there's a mistake, you want to write a detailed letter and send it to the medical facility or, oftentimes, they have a patient representative. You want to CC that person or that department as well, and if you still don't get any response, if they still say that you owe it, you may have to contact the Consumer Protection Office in your state.
CHADWICK: So you're saying a lot of medical facilities now, they have someone who, more or less, is assigned to handle the possibility of mistakes anyway, and there's a representative you can engage and get into the process?
Ms. SINGLETARY: That's right. They have someone, not just billing, but other issues you may have with your doctors or nurses, and my daughter was at Children's Medical Center, and they had people there; it was wonderful. And whenever I had a billing issue I would call and I would send them a letter and they would get it cleared up right away. I mean, they want to make sure that they're charging you for the right--now, some hospitals may not, but if you do your due diligence in keeping notes, in keeping track and looking for these typos and double-billing, you should be okay.
CHADWICK: Michelle Singletary, the author of Spend Well, Live Rich: How to Get What You Want With the Money You Have. She's also our regular guest on matters of personal finance. Michelle, thanks again.
Ms. SINGLETARY: You're so welcome.
CHADWICK: And if you, dear listeners, have money questions for Michelle, go to our web site, NPR.org. On that site, you will find our Contact Us link. You can click on that and send a question to Michelle. Please put Michelle in the subject line.
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