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Whether it’s for a routine physical or an emergency ER visit, everyone receives medical bills. While extremely common, these bills are often unclear and difficult to decipher. Oftentimes, medical bills use codes and shorthand to describe the services you received, making it difficult to tell what the bill is actually for. Another thing that tends to confuse consumers is a variation between the bill from the hospital or provider network and the explanation of benefits from your insurance company.  The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offers consumers the following tips to help make understanding medical bills easier:

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Know what services are covered by your insurance. It can save you a lot of money, time, and stress if you know what your insurance covers before the service is performed.

Get an estimate. Find out the cost of the procedure or appointment before you arrive so you have an idea of what it will cost you. In Massachusetts, both doctors AND your insurance company are required to give you price estimates based on your insurance plan.

Find out if the doctor is in your network. Out-of-network visits can be more expensive or may not be covered by your insurance company. It should be noted that even if a hospital is in-network, it is possible that doctors working there might not be in-network. Check in advance.

Always get a receipt. Make sure to save receipts from co-pays, and write down both the service you received and the dates they took place.

Request an itemized bill. Sometimes bills only show the total amount owed even if multiple services were performed. Ask for the itemized bill so you can make sure you are being charged correctly.

Check your bill for accuracy. Were you overcharged, double-billed, or incorrectly dated? If any of these apply, contact the billing department at your doctor or hospital.

Don’t confuse bills with explanation of benefits. EOB’s simply show what has been paid for by the insurance company. This can show you how much you will be billed for in the future.

Call your insurance company. If the bill doesn’t look right, the co-pay is too high, or you are confused about billing, call your provider. They are there to answer your questions and help you out.

Pay bills on time. If you don’t pay your bill, it can be sent to a collections agency and will impact your credit score.

Set up a payment plan. If you cannot afford your bills, see if the billing department can set up a plan for you to pay and let them know you are aware of the bill so they don’t think you are ignoring it.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation have developed a survey to determine exactly what about medical bills consumers find hard to understand. Please take our survey here.

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