Check your hospital bill carefully

Being stuck in a hospital bed after surgery or while in the middle of treatment can leave you with a feeling of helplessness. Even if your doctor has the best bedside manner, it’s a situation you’re unfamiliar with, and you probably don’t understand all of the medical processes taking place around you.

Typically, because a hospital stay is an unpleasant experience, people want to be done with it for good once they go home. Unfortunately, this attitude makes it very easy for billing errors to slip through the cracks. And it’s easy to rationalize, when you see all those charges, to simply pay what they say you owe because you don’t want to relive the whole experience.

Still, errors do occur, and you can sometimes save hundreds of dollars by making sure your bill is accurate.

The most common types of mistakes include being charged for the use of equipment that was never used, and sometimes even removed from the room. It’s also very common to be charged for pain killers that were never taken or were returned because you refuse them. You may find that a lab test that was ordered and then canceled appears on your bill.

To protect yourself from these errors, keep a small journal during your stay, if you're physically able. If not, have a family member take notes. Keep track of even the most basic procedures, such as each time blood is drawn or drugs are administered, as well as how often and at what times nurses and doctors check in on you.

Also make notes of all equipment that is brought to or taken from your room, and when those moves were made. Often, staffers will borrow something from your room and forget to return it. In that case, you shouldn’t be charged for it.

Insist on an itemized bill, and not just a summary of charges. Then check the items on the bill and make sure you weren’t charged for services not rendered.

Check the room charges and make sure the number of days you were there is accurate. Also, see if the telephone and television charges are consistent with your own recollection. And if you stayed in a semi-private room, make sure you’re only billed for a semi-private room.

You’ll want to be just as meticulous about the doctor’s charges as well. Be sure that all x-rays and medications listed on the bill are accurate. Often, the billing is handled by an office staff worker relying on the doctor’s notes in the billing process. And you know what they say about doctors’ handwriting!

For the most part, you’ll likely find that the bill is accurate, or that any mistakes are minor. Still, it’s worth the time and effort to check the billing. After all, if you find a thousand dollar mistake, and your insurance only pays 80 percent, you’ve just saved yourself $200 for only a few minutes of effort.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

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