Liz Sheffield

4 Tips for Preventing and Handling Unexpected Medical Bills

Unexpected medical bills seem to come at the most inconvenient times. And yet this scenario is all too common.

The results of a poll conducted by the West Health Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago paint a bleak picture of the difficulties Americans face paying medical bills. In the past year:

  • 54 percent of poll respondents said they had received a medical bill for something they thought their health insurance covered
  • 53 percent received a medical bill that was higher than expected
  • 28 percent had a medical bill turned over to a collection agency

Rather than seeing your employees skip a test or treatment because they’re not sure what it will end up costing — which is what 40 percent of respondents said they did — teach them these preventive steps that can help them avoid unexpected medical bills.

Get Your Facts Straight

Encourage employees to keep their insurance card on hand. When speaking with health professionals, they should provide their name exactly as it appears on the card. A misspelled name or numerical error can result in coding mistakes and miscalculations on medical bills.

Your employees shouldn’t rely on others to verify and confirm that their information is correct. Providing accurate subscriber information is the first step to ensuring that medical bills come through accurately.

Know Your Network

When your employees review their options for doctors and specialists, encourage them to look for providers who are in network. In-network doctors have negotiated rates with your insurance company, so the prices your employees will pay for their services will be lower than with out-of-network doctors. While in some cases your employees might decide to spend the extra money to receive care from a specific specialist who may be out-of-network, it’s best to make that choice knowing what those additional costs could be.

The same rule applies to in- and out-of-network hospitals — your employees’ costs will be higher if they receive care at a hospital outside of the network. Encourage them not to leave this research until an emergency occurs. Instead, they could review plan materials early on and make a list of local in-network hospitals. Not only will this save them time during an emergency, but the lower in-network fees will also help save on costs related to their hospital visit.

Don’t Make Assumptions

If your employees are making an appointment with a new doctor, they should communicate as much as possible with the medical professionals handling their care. They should let the doctor know about their health care coverage and ask questions to determine how much of their care will be covered by their plan.

Similarly, when receiving transport to an ER, your employees should try to request that they’re taken to an in-network hospital. This may not always be possible in an emergency situation, but making the request may save them some money.

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Save Smart

Consider offering employees savings tools like flexible spending accounts (FSA) or health savings accounts (HSA). The money in these accounts can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses. Contributing to and using an FSA or HSA can help your employees not only cover unexpected medical bills but also reduce their taxable income, since the contributions are pretax.

Most importantly, emphasize that your employees can’t let fears about unexpected medical bills or worries about how to pay medical bills prevent them from seeking care. Instead, help them become as informed as possible about their plan so they can feel confident in knowing what’s covered and which providers are included in their network. With this information, they’ll be able to make timely decisions about the care they need and avoid delaying treatment, which is one more way they’ll save money in the long run.

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