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Understanding your hospital bill

If you have been in the hospital, you will receive a bill listing the charges. Hospital bills can be complex and confusing. While it may seem hard to do, you should look closely at the bill and ask questions if you see something you do not understand.

Here are some tips for reading your hospital bill and suggestions for what to do if you find an error. Looking closely at your bill may help you save money.

Charges Listed on Your Hospital Bill

A hospital bill will list the major charges from your visit. It lists the services you received (such as procedures and tests), as well as medicines and supplies. Most of time, you will get a separate bill for health care provider fees. It is a good idea to ask for a more detailed hospital bill with all of the charges described separately. That can help you make sure the bill is correct.

If you have insurance, you may also get a form from your insurance company, called an Explanation of Benefits (EOB). This is not a bill. It explains:

  • What is covered by your insurance
  • Amount of payment made and to whom
  • Deductibles or co-insurance

A deductible is the amount of money you must pay each year to cover your medical care expenses before your insurance policy starts to pay. Co-insurance is the amount you pay for medical care after you have met your health insurance deductible. It is often given as a percentage.

The information on the EOB should match your hospital bill. If it does not, or there is something you do not understand, call your insurance company.

Check Your Charges

Errors on your medical bill can cost you money. So it is worth the time to check your bill. Check the following items carefully:

  • Dates and number of days. Check that the dates on the bill match when you were in the hospital. If you were admitted after midnight, make sure the charges start on that day. If you are discharged in the morning, check that you are not charged for the full daily room rate.
  • Number errors. If a fee seems too high, check that there are no extra zeros added after a number (for example, 1500 instead of 150).
  • Double charges. Make sure you are not billed twice for the same service, medicine, or supplies.
  • Medicine charges. If you brought your medicines from home, check that you were not charged for them. If a provider prescribed a generic drug, make sure you are not billed for the brand-name version.
  • Charges for routine supplies. Question charges for things such as gloves, gowns, or sheets. They should be part of the hospital's general costs.
  • Costs of reading tests or scans. You should be charged only once, unless you got a second opinion.
  • Cancelled work or medicines. Sometimes, a provider orders tests, procedures, or medicines that are later cancelled. Check that these items are not on your bill.

A Fair Price

If you had surgery or another procedure, it helps to know whether your hospital charged a fair price. There are some websites you can use to help you find this information. They use national databases of billed medical services. You enter the name of the procedure and your zip code to find an average or estimated 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 the information to ask for a lower fee.

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 help explain the bill in clear language. If you find a mistake, ask the billing department to correct the error. Keep a record of the date and time you called, the name of the person you spoke to, and what you were told.

If you find an error and do not feel you are getting the help you need, consider hiring a medical-billing advocate. Advocates charge an hourly fee or a percentage of the amount of money you save as a result of their review.

Get Help Paying Your Bill

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

  • Get a discount if you pay the full amount in cash
  • Work out a payment plan
  • Get financial aid from the hospital

References

American Hospital Association. Hospital Billing and Collection Practices. Statement of Principles and Guidelines. Approved by the AHA Board of Trustees. Updated May 5, 2012. www.aha.org/content/12/120505-bill-collec-prac-statement.pdf. Accessed October 19, 2016.

American Academy of Family Physicians. Understanding your Medical Bills. Updated January 2012. familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/healthcare-management/insurance-bills/understanding-your-medical-bills.html. Accessed October 19, 2016.

FAIR Health. Understanding Your Medical Bill. fairhealthconsumer.org/reimbursementseries.php?id=1103. Accessed October 19, 2016.

Review Date 9/3/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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