How to interpret your hospital bill

If you have been in a hospital, you will receive a bill with a list of charges. Hospital bills can be complex and confusing. While it may seem difficult to do so, you should pay close attention to the bill and ask questions if you see something you do not understand.

Here are some tips for reading the hospital bill and suggestions on what to do if you find an error. Paying close attention to your bill can help you save money.

Charges shown on your hospital bill

A hospital bill usually shows a list of the main charges of your visit. It details the services you received (such as procedures and exams), as well as medications and supplies. Most of the time, you will receive a separate bill for the charges related to health care providers. It is a good idea to request a more detailed hospital bill with all the charges described separately. That can help you ensure the invoice is correct.

If you have insurance, you can also receive a form from your insurance company, called an Explanation of Benefits (EOB). This is not an invoice. Explain:

  • What is covered by your health insurance
  • The amount paid and who was paid
  • Deductibles or coinsurance

A deductible is the amount of money you must pay each year to cover your health care expenses before your insurance policy begins to pay. Coinsurance is the amount you pay for medical care after you have met your health insurance deductible. It is usually expressed as a percentage.

The information in the EOB must be the same as the hospital bill. If it is not, or if there is something you do not understand, call your insurance company.

Check your charges

Errors in your medical bill can cost you money. So, it’s worth taking the time to check your bill. Review the following elements carefully:

Dates and number of days. Check that the dates on the bill coincide with your stay in the hospital. If you were admitted after midnight, make sure the charges begin that day. If you are discharged in the morning, check that you do not charge the room rate for the full day.

Number errors If a rate seems very high, check that there are no extra zeros added after the number (for example, 1500 instead of 150).

Duplicate charges. Make sure you are not charged twice for the same service, medication or supplies.

Charges for medications. If you took your medications from home, check that they have not been charged. If a provider prescribes a generic drug, make sure they do not charge the brand-name version.

Charges for routine supplies. Question charges for items such as gloves, gowns, or sheets. They should be part of the general costs of the hospital.

Costs for interpretation of exams or explorations. They should only charge you once, unless you receive a second opinion.

Work or drugs canceled. Sometimes a provider orders tests, procedures or medications that are later canceled. Check that these do not appear on your bill.

A fair price

If you had surgery or other procedure, it helps to know if the hospital charged you a fair price. There are some websites that you can use to find this information. They use national databases of billed medical services. You write the name of the procedure and your zip code to find an average or an estimate of the price in your area.

If the charge on your bill is higher than the fair price or higher than what other hospitals charge, you can use this information to request a lower rate.

Ask questions

If you do not understand a charge on your bill, many hospitals have financial counselors to help you with your bill. They can explain the invoice to you in a clearer language. If you find an error, ask the billing department to correct the error. Keep a record of the date and time of the call, the name of the person you spoke with and what you were told.

If you find an error and do not feel you are getting the help you need, consider hiring a lawyer specialized in medical billing. Attorneys charge per hour or a percentage of the amount of money you save as a result of your review.

Get help to pay your bill

If you cannot pay your entire bill before the due date, you may have options. Ask the billing department if you can:

  • Get a discount if you pay the entire amount in cash
  • Reach an agreement for a payment plan
  • Receive financial help from the hospital

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