MCC expert says understanding your medical bills can pay off

At first glance your medical bill might seem to be a jumble of numbers and letters that form an endless list of codes that are enough to scramble your brain.

But that information is easier to understand than you realize, and your willingness to take the time to look it over could save you money and protect you from identity theft.

Patricia Elliott, health information management and coding program coordinator at MCC-Penn Valley’s Health Science Institute, recently spelled it out in an article she wrote for a regional magazine, Our Health Matters.

She says it’s important to keep an eye on your Explanation of Benefits statements even after you’ve met your deductible.

Elliott says to start by reviewing the dates of service to make sure you’re being billed accurately.

“Many people will gloss over the dates of service but if you haven’t seen that provider in months, your identity could have been hacked.”

Elliott also says to make sure you’re being billed for the correct procedures.

“I once had my gallbladder removed, and when I got the bill the code was for a 12-year-old for a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.”

She says mistakes like this do happen.  “Remember that people who code and complete the claim are human, and one typo or transposed number can result in an error.”

Elliott says billing mistakes can cause insurance premiums to rise, and if you don’t catch a case of identity theft soon enough it can take a long time to fix.

Beyond staying on top of what you owe, the codes for services and procedures have a value that goes beyond your bill.

While they help explain what happened during your doctor or hospital visit to insurance companies, they also help track the public’s health. These codes can alert the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to outbreaks and help them monitor epidemics.

Two examples are tracking the resurgence of measles, along with staying ahead of diabetes and tracking the efforts to prevent it.

Elliott says you can learn more about the codes on your medical bill by Googling them.

If you’re interested in becoming a coding specialist you can be certified through Metropolitan Community College’s coding specialist program.

It’s a one-year certificate program. It also requires a semester of prerequisite courses.

You have to apply for admission, and there are classes that begin in the fall and spring semesters.

There’s a strong demand for people with these skills. Elliott says the average starting salary is about $35,000.