Almost Half of All Medical Bills in the U.S. Contain Errors, Most of Which Overcharge Patients

Doctor explaining diagnosis to her female patient
Errors in medical billing are becoming more common around the United States, and mistakes can cost patients some serious cash.An analysis by NerdWallet found that 49% of medical bills contained errors and some medical centers made mistakes on more than 80% of claims to Medicare, according to Medicare’s hospital audits for 2013.

And as most people know, medical care in the United States can be costly: NerdWallet also found that 63% of adults have received a medical bill that cost more than they thought it would. In 2014, around 20% of patients were contacted by debt collectors for their unpaid medical bills — and would be overcharged an average of 26% more.

The study is in line with another report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is a government agency. The CFPB found that 52% of all debt on Americans’ credit reports is due to medical bills.

This is bad news for the Americans with healthcare plans that require them to share the cost of their care with insurers.

“If you’re responsible for the first $5,000 or $10,000 of your care, you’re going to want to be more attentive,” says Stephen Parente, a professor from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

Hospitals and doctor’s offices without a dedicated or qualified billing staff may struggle to keep up with patient demands, and as a result, they may look into outsourcing medical billing instead.

Because hospitals see so many patients on a daily basis, it’s easy for errors to occur with billing. For one hospital in Oklahoma, the problems turned out to be intentional, resulting in the firing of its entire billing staff.

Employees and management at Axis Practice Solutions LLC and related company Axis Practice Management Inc., which worked for the Norman Regional Hospital Authority, were fired on March 9 for a number of violations, from double-billing patients to embezzlement and fraud.

The hospital claims that Axis over-billed them by more than $1.37 million from November 2009 to December 2014.

For patients, Time cautions them to know about their bills. They should make sure to question any charges that they don’t understand.

Discrepancies can take months to sort out, but this is preferable to having medical debt listed on a credit report and being stuck overpaying for healthcare.

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