Whenever you get a medical bill that’s either more than you expect (which is often) or confusing (also often), you should ask for an itemized bill, or a “super bill.” A super bill contains the finer details you actually need to make sense of what you’re actually being charged for, which, in turn, will uncover errors that you can then have removed from the bill.
What is a super bill?
Not all medical bills are alike, and some give you almost zero information about what you’re being charged for. In that case, ask for an itemized bill from your medical provider, either as a request in writing or through their billing portal (if they have one). Within a couple of weeks, you should receive a new bill that provides detailed line items for each service provided.
A lot of these items will have codes and abbreviated descriptions that are difficult to parse, but there are ways to verify whether they are legit charges.
How to spot errors in your super bill
Before you dispute a bill with your medical provider, try to understand each item as best you can by following these steps:
- If you have health insurance, start with your EOB, or Explanation of Benefits. This is sent to you by your insurance provider after you receive medical care, and it confirms what portion of that medical care is covered by insurance. It looks a lot like a bill you have to pay, but it’s not.
- At some point after treatment your insurance provider will pay off their share of the bill, and that’s when you get an actual bill from the medical provider. At this point, you can request an itemized bill if the first bill doesn’t make sense. (It’s possible that you will get this bill before your EOB, so you’ll have to wait for your EOB or follow-up with your insurer to close the loop.)
- Look for basic errors or obvious mark-ups for services you didn’t use or need. Your itemized bill will include universal HCPCS and ICD-10 Codes, which describe a service/product or a diagnosis, respectively. If the line item description next to this code doesn’t make sense, Google the code for a plainly worded description.
Common types of medical bill errors
Typos are common. Codes are often used incorrectly or can be off by a single digit, so you’ll want to flag a service or diagnosis that doesn’t make sense based on the treatment you received. Duplicate billing is also common.
Also, you can successfully push back on exorbitant markup, as medical providers sometimes sneak in dubious charges for things like $100 aspirin or $10 bottles of water (you can also check databases like Fair Health or Healthcare Bluebook to see what a normal range of fees might be for the service provided).
How to dispute a charge on a medical bill
All you have to do is call the provider, or write a letter disputing the charges. You might want to contact your insurance provider first, and make sure that a discrepancy isn’t on their end. Otherwise, if the provider won’t budge on a clear-cut billing error, you might want to consider legal action. If you can’t afford to pay the bill, consider your payment options, as outlined in this Lifehacker post.