Are Transparent Hospital and Medical Bills on the Rise?

December 3, 2012 in health care costs, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Care

News from an Ohio media news site indicates that “hospitals around the country” are trying to make their medical bills easier to read, citing the Healthcare Financial Management Association and a case study for the Cleveland Clinic, one site that has renovated the look of its paper bills.

Most of the changes focus on the idea that traditional bills just have too many lines and lack clarity about who has current responsibility for debt amounts vs. who has already paid. To this end, photos of new billing structures show that complicated sets of line items can be replaced with headings like “You Paid X on X Date” and “Insurance Company Paid X Amount.”

Changing the format for medical bills can help both you and your provider. Because when you can read a bill effectively at a glance, you are more likely to respond immediately to what you receive in the mail. Bills that are too cryptic often just end up getting thrown in the trash or added to the pile. This means the provider receives delayed payment or non-payment and you risk credit damage.

What These Medical Bill Improvements Don’t Address

Although it can be really helpful to make bills more readable, this still doesn’t address some of the most common challenges we encounter. One of these is multiple bills that ‘fragment’ a major medical charge into many hard-to-chase bits of paper; the news items from the Ohio paper do also address how some providers are putting all of these separate charges into a single bill. But along with this issue, there’s the question of how health charges actually get calculated, which is the elephant in the room when it comes to tackling health care reform of any real kind. We’ve covered some of these issues in the past, specifically, the sky-high facility and procedure charges, as well as some pretty non-transparent and unfair costs related to hospital outsourcing of out-of-network professionals on any given shift. With these kinds of issues, a cleaner paper bill isn’t likely to help, although it may give you a better and clearer stance for negotiating differences between these parties. In many cases, the readable bill is only the first step toward a greater conversation about how and why providers charge various amounts for health care services. Make sure that unfair or deceptive medical bills don’t cost you more than you can pay, and get informed about how to discuss your charges with providers and health insurance companies.

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