A Practical Guide to Tracking Your Cancer Bills
Insurance billing for cancer treatment can be very confusing. Bills come from the hospital, the doctors, and labs. Meanwhile, the insurance company sends a steady flow of explanation of benefits (EOB) statements. Adding to the complexity, there may be multiple bills or charges for each treatment. For example, hospitals may charge a fee for the supplies used during a test and a separate physician's fee.
Here are some tips to help you understand your medical bills and insurance coverage.
Keep an appointment calendar to track your bills
In cancer treatment, you're likely to have many different bills from many different providers and appointments. To help track your bills, you can keep a detailed calendar with all of your medical appointments1.
On every bill, providers list the date of service. Using the date of service, you can refer back to your calendar to identify exactly which appointment the bill is for and what treatment you received on that date. If this level of organization is too overwhelming while you are undergoing treatment, ask a spouse or friend to help.
Explanation of benefits
Your insurance company may send you an explanation of benefits (EOB)2, noting the provider’s name, services, the amount charged, the negotiated amount agreed to by the insurer and provider, the amount the insurer pays (based on your deductible and insurance plan), and the amount you owe.
The EOB is not a bill. It offers the health plan’s perspective on forthcoming bills and details how each bill is handled, including what portion of the bill is the financial responsibility of the patient. It may say that a particular medical service is covered, but because you haven’t met your deductible, or the provider is out-of-network, you owe more. When the actual bill arrives, compare it to the EOB to make sure the information matches.
You may get separate EOBs and bills for what seems like the same visit. For example, an X-ray done in a hospital may incur a hospital charge and a radiologist charge. These charges may appear on different EOBs or bills because the hospital and provider might charge separately for their services.
Depending on your health coverage, you might need to pay a co-payment (your portion of the treatment cost) at the front desk, or you may get billed later. If you make a payment onsite at the time of the medical visit, keep the receipt so you can track it. A medical bill3 might arrive in a week or years down the line, as the provider and insurer work out the proper payment.
When you get a medical bill, you’ll want to confirm the provider name and service and make sure it’s what you received. If you have a question about it, you can call the doctor’s office. You’ll also want to compare it to the EOB and make sure the bill specifies the same amount as the EOB, and that any payments you already made were correctly applied.
Keep a medical expense tracking spreadsheet
Some people find it easier to track bills and EOBs on a simple spreadsheet, either on paper or with a computer. You can set up a column for the visit date, provider, treatment received, co-payment made, date EOB was received, date bill was received and paid, the amount paid and the check number. It’s helpful to have a column for comments as well -- perhaps you called the insurer to check on something and want to leave notes about that conversation. Of course, you can add additional columns as needed, like one for secondary insurance if you have that, or a column for reimbursement from a flexible spending account or health savings account.
Keep a file system
The paperwork will stack up quickly. Consider keeping an expandable folder or hanging file system, with a section for bills from each provider. That way you can keep the bills and EOBs in order, making it easy to double check what’s been paid and what you may owe. Make your own notes on the bill and the EOB about the date and method of your payment, even a check number. Those who prefer going paperless can scan the documents and make computer folders instead of paper folders.
The financial paperwork generated by cancer treatment can seem overwhelming, especially during your treatment. But by staying organized, you’ll feel less overpowered by the process.
1. Tracking Your Medical Insurance and Health Insurance Claims. Cancer.net. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/managing-your-care/tracking-your-medical-bills-and-health-insurance-claims. Accessed November 12, 2017.
2. What You Can Learn From Your Explanation of Benefits Statement. AARP. http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-10-2010/learn_from_EOB.html. Accessed November 12, 2017.
3. Understanding Your Medical Bills. FamilyDoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/understanding-your-medical-bills/. Accessed November 12, 2017.
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