Medical Forms May Be Hazardous To Your Financial Health

By Stephanie Powers | August 13, 2009 AAA

Do you really understand the forms you complete at the doctor's office? Most people don't, but the forms are important not only to your medical care, but your financial health. Consider the impact of the following commonly used forms:
Transfer of Payments
You agree to allow your insurance company to directly pay your healthcare provider. Patients receive a notice listing the amount the doctor charged, the amount the insurance company will pay and the amount the patient is responsible for. As a result, most patients don't learn the price of medical procedures until after they have been performed and the amount is due. In emergency situations, request a billing quote from your healthcare provider before services are rendered. Actually read your insurance policy to know what is covered, and call for clarification if needed. Most providers will check with insurance companies beforehand anyway, so don't be afraid to compare costs and inquire about pricing, even if your insurer pays the bill. After healthcare services are provided, verify all line items on the bill are correct.

Patient Responsibility for Expenses
Your healthcare provider wants to know they will receive payment for their work, so they have patients sign a document stating that the patient is responsible for paying the bill, regardless of whether or not the patient's insurance pays. This is how most people get into debt due to an illness. Find out your provider's billing policy. Do they have a set price or bill according to your financial ability to pay, or the amount your insurer will pay in addition to your co-pay or deductible? Take the time to understand what your health insurance covers. Also, learn the procedures for handling billing discrepancies. If you don't have insurance, or the treatment is not covered, negotiate the price with your provider. Some providers apply different pricing for patients without insurance.

Medical History
Everything you write on your medical history form becomes a part of your record. There are cases where you may release your medical records to others. For example: Your bank probably knows your medical history through payment transactions. It's perfectly legal in most states for employers with more than 15 employees to request medical records for employees as part of a background check. For specific information you wish kept confidential, file a written request with your insurance provider.

Shopping Around
Insurers usually receive more validated health information, such as medical test results and diagnosis reports. Pre-existing conditions, family history of inheritable diseases and documented lifestyle issues, such as obesity, impacts your ability to obtain health and life insurance. If you have such health issues, shop carefully for insurance. Independent insurance agents can search for policies that cover your conditions and compare prices in cases where you are charged more due to concerns such as smoking. (Read Bundle Your Insurance For Big Savings to see how get the most out of multiline insurance discounts.)

Just like there are credit reporting agencies, there are also medical history reporting agencies. The Medical Information Bureau (www.mib.com) provides medical reports to insurance companies for individuals seeking health or life insurance. Intelliscript and Medpoint report prescription drug usage. If you are denied insurance coverage based on these reports, you have a right to a copy of the report. Access to insurance protects your overall financial health - guard it diligently.

Privacy policy
You give the healthcare provider the right to share your medical records according to their policy. The Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act (HIPPA) includes medical privacy rules, but those rules only apply to certain situations.

The Dotted Line
The document you sign is usually a blanket waiver describing how and when medical information is shared. Don't just sign the form stating that you read their policy and agree to it. Only initial the parts you truly agree to. Edit the document to limit the amount of information shared, and read updates to the policy carefully.

Advanced Directives
You tell the healthcare provider your preferences on what should happen to you in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. The durable power of attorney appoints someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. A living will determines the amount of healthcare given when a diagnosis is terminal. A large percentage of medical expenses occur at the end-of-life. If you decide that everything possible should be done to prolong your life, carefully investigate your healthcare coverage to make sure there are no gaps for terminal illness.

If possible, obtain all documentation before an appointment with a healthcare provider. Consider each form carefully and understand your rights. Medical forms may be complicated and annoying but it is in the patient's best interest to not only understand them, but compare healthcare policies and make the appropriate decisions. The impact is too precious to measure.

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