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4 costly health care bill mistakes

Mar 19, 2012, 7 a.m.

Would it surprise you to know that some of the most common errors in health care are well within your ability to ensure never happen? There's not much any of us can do to fight the rising cost of health care -- however, there are four effective practices that we can each put into place to make sure that we don't pay a penny more than we absolutely have to. Here are a few tricks to avoiding the most common billing and medical payment errors.

Go over every single one of your doctor's bills with a fine toothed comb. Far too often, we get a bill in the mail and only look at the amount due. The next thing we look at is when that payment is due -- and typically, those bills that are most affordable and that have the soonest arriving due date are paid out first. But before you go putting pen to check or fishing out your credit card to make a payment by phone, remember one thing: medical bills are famous for having minor mistakes that could add up to a small fortune. Look for duplicate billings, and always ensure you're able to confirm that every charge was for a service that you received. If you have any questions, call the billing department number on your bill and double check.

If the amount of money you're being asked to pay is inordinately high, first make sure that your insurance company paid the correct amount. Sometimes, doctor's offices and hospitals can make honest but enormous mistakes that can result in serious financial medical errors. If you have any reason to believe that the services you received were either submitted incorrectly or not submitted to your insurance company at all, don't pay the amount until you've contacted both parties to confirm everything on your bill is accurate and that you owe the money.

If you've received a bill for medical services because your insurance company is denying you coverage, fight their decision tooth and nail. Far too few people do this, mistakenly believing the old adage that "you can't fight City Hall" -- but the fact is, there are specific protections written into law that require your insurer to explain to you why they're denying you coverage. The law even stipulates that the insurance company is required to show you how to go about getting an independent, third-party opinion on the matter.

Be ready, willing and able to haggle. Medical bills aren't cast in stone, and taking the extra step of attempting to negotiate a lower price if the above steps aren't successful should be your next course of action. The trouble is, far too many people feel that this is too much of a hassle -- but if it can result in saving you hundreds of dollars, or even the equivalent of a few dollars, it's well worth it.

These days, you have to act as your own advocate to protect against errors in health care billing that could send you to the poor house. Taking the steps above will keep you safe from that unfortunate and entirely unnecessary fate.

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