Organizing medical billings and paperwork

Professional organizer Julie Bestry speaks from personal experience on how to organize medical billings and paperwork to avoid bankruptcy in her article “Don’t Let Hospital Billing Errors Bleed You Dry“:

Harvard University research indicates that approximately 62% of U.S. personal bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills. Given that, it’s vital to keep track of medical billing, particularly hospital billing, to make sure you are being charged a fair and accurate amount. In fact, some medical billing experts believe that up to 80% of all hospital and medical bills contain at least one error, underlining the importance of vigilance in scrutinizing your medical billing paperwork.

She discusses how to detect errors in your bills and also has a wonderful guide to how to organize this paperwork:

These five posts are a fantastic resource. Again, this is a time when I hope that you won’t ever have to use this information.

16 Comments for “Organizing medical billings and paperwork”

  1. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of medical emergencies with my immediate family over the past 2 1/2 years. I’ve created an Excel doc that I use for each member. I list ER visits, diagnoses, doctors who attended/operated, meds given….the lot. It’s become a really handy tool for follow up doctor’s appointments.

    I’ve also got a prescription list too — and for anyone who has to take multiple meds, an Excel sheet that lists each drug (and it’s appearance so they don’t get mixed up) plus the day/time when it needs to be taken is a godsend. I created one that can be used to check off each med as it is taken. I don’t know what we would have done without these lists. On one instance, the paramedics had to come and they marvelled at the Excel sheets I had made. They said that they wished all patients had something similar, so I must be doing something right.

  2. posted by Dawn F. on

    You’re right on, Lose That Girl! Excel spreadsheets for medical documentation organization rocks!

    I have a single-page Excel spreadsheet that holds our basic physician contact information and appointments. I have a column for physician name, address, phone and website for each of the 3 of us and then 1 column each dated last year, this year and next year for appointment dates so I can easily see at-a-glance who has been where and when the next appointment is.

    The columns for the physicians (including dentists) are color-coded – each color matches the family member who goes to that physician so it’s very user-friendly.

    It all fits on one sheet so if I need to print it out or email it to my mom it’s super easy to deal with. It might sound like a pain, but after you originally set it up to your needs, it is major easy to update.

    In our filing cabinet, I keep a separate folder for: me, my husband, my son, Prescriptions, Dental and Vision. I keep all pertinent information such as claims disputes, EOBs stapled to bills/receipts, research info, etc. I normally don’t keep things that are available online unless there is an issue where I had to make phone contact and I wanted to keep my “who I talked to” notes. I keep all information for the previous year and the current year only – shredding everything older than that (unless it’s something major/serious).

    I swear insurance companies LOVE to find a way to not pay a claim or come up with some random reason to delay and cause issues (in my personal experience) and I can’t tell you how many times I have referred back to my files or spreadsheet to straighten out their mess.

    Staying organized with your medical information can help you, too when you have a Flexible Spending Account involved – so you use up every penny without losing one!

  3. posted by Julie Bestry on

    Erin, thanks for sharing my posts with your readers. I feel honored.

    Lose That Girl and Dawn F. are absolutely right about the magnificence of spreadsheets, especially for keeping track of prescription history information. Sometimes, a “symptom” is actually a reaction or result of short- or long-term use of a particular medication or an interaction between two medications, and only a long-term view of the big “prescription picture” provides all the necessary details.

    Doctors generally get to see only a small window into our health histories; the more organized and detailed we can be as advocates for ourselves and our loved ones, the more of a fighting chance we’ll have (against illness and against recalcitrant insurance companies)!

  4. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    I once audited EOBs and statements from providers for an organizing client. Due to mis coding and other types of ‘operator malfunction’, we were able to identify and recover over $3000 worth of overpayment. The 2 big items were miscodes, and the rest were arithmetic mistakes or omissions at the providers’ offices.

    It’s worth every minute to organize/audit medical expenses. Thanks,Julie, for your post!


  5. posted by Gillian on

    Thanks for this post and these comments. They’re very informative. I thought I was thorough, but these leave me trailing in the dust.

  6. posted by AK on

    62% of U.S. personal bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills??!!! Why do you put up with it??

    @Dawn F. “I swear insurance companies LOVE to find a way to not pay a claim or come up with some random reason to delay and cause issues … ”

    And still, people scream and yell that they prefer this system over the alternatives.

    My health insurance company is the Government of Canada and they pay without hesistation, without question.

    Or at least I assume they do, the process is invisible to me, all I have to do is say “Thanks, Doc!” on my way out the door.

    Seriously, why do you tolerate a profit-driven corporation having this much control over your medical budgets?

  7. posted by Anita on

    @AK – You beat me to it. I’ve often wondered why so many people defend the US health care system in the same breath as they complain about their huge medical bills. And that was without knowing about the personal bankruptcy statistics!

    One of those times when you realise we Canadians have it pretty good. I don’t pay a cent for my regular check-ups or routine tests, and only a fraction of the cost for meds, hospital stays etc, most of which I get back through insurance with almost no effort.

    I do agree on the importance of keeping medical records organized, though, and of having a personal medical history handy. No matter how well your health system might take care of you, the most important thing is for you to have a handle on your own health.

  8. posted by Christine on

    I don’t think it’s the healthcare SYSTEM that people love, but rather the healthcare itself. People fly in their families from all over the world to get US Medical care because they feel it’s better than in their home country.

    This isn’t to say that it’s not as good in Canada or in other countries – I’m just speaking from incidents I’ve heard about!

  9. posted by WilliamB on

    I can – and do – keep track of bills & services received, paid for, reimbursed. What I do not know is
    1) if a service was appropriate or necessary; and
    2) if the fee for a service was appropriate.

    How do you determine the answers to these questions?

    PS: I have a friend who had amniocentesis and genetic testing performed by an in-service provider. The insurance company paid for amnio but turned down the testing with the explaination that fertility treatment is not covered.

    Her letter back to them was a masterpiece. For example: “Amniocentesis is a test that requires the presence of amniotic fluid, a condition existent uniquely in pregnant persons. Fertility treatment is contradindicated for those already pregnant.”

  10. posted by Lurker with a Preexisting Condition on

    @Christine “People fly in their families from all over the world to get US Medical care because they feel it’s better than in their home country.”

    Hi, Christine, :^)

    I can see non-Americans who can afford United States health care doing this. For example, a Canadian named Shona Holmes paid $97,000 in cash to have a Rathke’s Cleft Cyst treated immediately at the Mayo Clinic, rather than wait six months to get it treated for free in Canada. However, most people can’t afford to pay for American health care out-of-pocket.

    Heck, sometimes Americans can’t afford American health care. My uninsured co-worker traveled to Germany for his back surgery, because he could not afford to get it done in the United States. He got exceptional treatment in Germany for a fraction of what he would have paid here. He’s not alone, either — Google “medical tourism Americans” to see the medical services available to Americans in other countries.

    It’s not just surgeries, either. Americans also travel to Canada to buy prescription drugs for less than what they would pay here.

    I envy the great coverage that my Canadian in-laws get. As you might guess from my handle, I have a tough time buying my own health insurance.


  11. posted by Lisa K. on

    That Harvard study (showing that over half of all US bankruptcies are caused by medical bills) has been widely discredited.




  12. posted by Lurker with a Preexisting Condition on

    @Lisa K. Your links will provide small comfort to American acquaintances of mine who have suffered financial devastation from medical bills.

    Two were uninsured when medical catastrophes hit them. Three others were insured, but their insurance would not pay all of their bills.

    One still owes $100,000+ for his heart surgery. He was lucky to get that surgery at all — he spent months searching for someone who would accept his health insurance.

  13. posted by Pat on

    I also live in a country (Japan) with nat’l health (which co-exists with private options). It definitely has problems, but overall it works. I can testify that prenatal care is pretty good.

    One organizational tool they use is called a “Mother & Child Handbook.” Given to EVERY pregnant woman, it is a booklet that holds all the data about the pregnancy (LOTS! they love data), then all the (free) well-baby/child development checks, (free) vaccinations and common childhood disease etc. from once the child is born to age six. Docs even put in the lot numbers of the vacs! By the way, health care for children is free until age 13. Even dental. (Not braces, however, sigh!)

    Anyway, the handbook is great – if you move, you just take it with you. It doesn’t record EVERY visit to the doc, but certainly important milestones.

    They also have documents like this for 40+ to record your vital stats like blood tests etc. Free checkups every few years.

    Some pharmacies have started giving out books to record all of your meds in to show your various docs.

    One of the reasons I stay here is health care. I couldn’t afford it back home in the States.

    By the way, for elective surgery, India and Thailand are big destinations too. Both filled with docs who trained in the States or elsewhere then repatriated.

  14. posted by Pat on

    BTW – either here nor there re: organization but google “reality check Shona Holmes.”

  15. posted by Angela on

    I also use a tool I created called the bluehealer diary to keep track of everything I do related to my health on a daily basis.

  16. posted by Theresa S on

    I need help. I have someone saying they will chr. me for helping find errors in my medical bills. How do i find these myself. I am paying 400.00 a month for insurance and getting charged an arm and a leg to the point where it is stressing me out. There are so many bills for one service the doc. the hospital the an. etc etc. I can’t keep up and i feel like i am sinking into finacial hell since (excuse my french) I got sick 4 yrs ago. If anyone needs extra credit homework and your proffessor calls me i will be more than happy to let you write a thesses on me. life and death of a medical dummy i see a+++. lol :(((

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