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Quicken manages chaos of medical bills

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM

Originally published: July 25, 2005

Did you ever feel trapped in the paperwork created by your doctor, medical laboratory, hospital or other health care provider and your insurance company? Have you been overwhelmed by insurance claim forms for the simple medical expenses of an annual physical checkup? Think of the blizzard of forms that must be handled by family members of those who have serious and ongoing illnesses or major surgeries. That’s a group that includes 58 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 64.

Now Quicken, the personal financial software company, has created a simple new product for your computer that will help you track medical bills and insurance claims, giving you control over at least one aspect of your health issues. It’s so simple to use that there’s no instruction booklet! Just load the disc, or download the software from www.Quicken and you’re ready to go.

Quicken Medical Expense Manager tells what bills to pay, when to pay them, the correct amount to pay, and even tracks your expenses for potential tax deductions. It will keep you organized so you can contact the insurance company and talk from a position of knowledge and power. It even has sample dispute resolution letters that are automatically filled out with the information from your series of bills.

The program helps you track tax-deductible expenses, including mileage charges for your regular trips to the clinic or hospital. It’s a systematic way to keep track of what bills are pending and what has been paid. Ultimately it creates a personal medical history that you can keep for years.

In short, this product holds your hand and guides you through the maze of insurance forms and doctor bills. Until the American health care system gets everything automated and online, this is the closest you’ll get. Here’s how it works:

Getting organized

Start by entering names of family members. There’s a place for you and your children, or elderly parents -- and even a record-keeping category for family pets!

Then, for every medical related expense there’s a category: doctor visit, dental visit, hospital services, laboratory services, even recurring medical expenses such as prescriptions or diabetic supplies. You can create your own categories if you have a wide range of medical bills.

Every time you receive either a bill, or one of those complicated insurance forms called an “Explanation of Benefits” (an oxymoron if there ever was one), the program guides you through the paperwork to track the important information and enter it into the program. For example, there are categories for provider, reason, service, co-pay and expected insurance coverage for each bill you receive.

Then you can track the progress of the payment in the box labeled “status.” Perhaps this bill is pending with your insurance company. When the final bill arrives and the insurer has made a complete or partial payment, you can refer back to this original record. Then write your check for the balance due, if any, and mark the category “paid.”

No longer will you wonder if you already paid the bill, or whether the insurance company has contributed the proper amount. If you disagree with the final bill -- the one you’re being asked to pay -- just click and the program will help you write a letter of dispute to the insurer.

Getting control

Knowing what you’re supposed to pay -- and when -- is only part of the paperwork problem. It always seems that the insurance company or medical provider has the upper hand when you call for an explanation -- because they have everything organized by date on their computers. Now, you’re on an equal basis. Your computer records will give you a sense of power and control over the process.

In the category for each bill, there’s a spot to note the date and name of the person with whom you discussed this bill, and there’s even a box for billing and medical notes associated with this service.

You can use the “sort” feature to study the bills by date, by family member, by physician -- in any way you can imagine. And it’s all done instantly, without shuffling through file folders of paper and getting frustrated.

Yes, you should still organize the paperwork -- dropping it into file folders that you’ll want to save. But now, all the important billing information is not only at your fingertips, but organized so that you don’t wind up paying the same bill twice-- or getting a letter from a collection agency!

In fact, if you’ve been handling medical bills by just waiting until that “final notice before collection” becomes your signal that you’d probably better write a check, you’ll figure the $49.99 price of this software is well worth it. And that’s The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser, and appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s newscasts. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.

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