How long should I keep my medical bills?
Medical bills can be a hassle. After a procedure, you may have half a dozen providers billing you separately for their services. You set up auto-draft payments with a card or pay month-to-month when the statement arrives, relying on the system to not make mistakes. But, then, statement balances may change from one cycle to the next due to insurance adjustments. If you aren't paying attention to your statements, you may end up confused about how much you owe.
Some people hold on to every document in case they might need it later. Other people take a glance to see that their monthly payment has posted and then throw their statement away because they don't like clutter. You don't have to leave the leaning tower of bills lying around forever, but there are some documents you should consider keeping which can be helpful in verifying health services provided.
Let's look at some suggestions about how to organize your documents including what to keep, what to toss, and how to move your filing system into the 21st century.
Keep your documents together by provider.
After a visit to the hospital, you may receive bills from doctors, anesthesiologists, specialists, lab technicians, and other medical providers. Unfortunately, they don't all get together and send you one bill. Instead, each provider bills you separately. You should keep these statements together by provider. This way, comparing one month's statement to the next becomes easier. Finding discrepancies or different charges on your bill may be a sign that you need to contact the provider for more information.
To keep or to toss? Here’s what we recommend.
Keep medical bills until you have paid the bill in full. Hang on to them for an additional year, especially if you plan on deducting the expenses on your income tax return. After that period, you can shred them. However, if you have a reoccurring condition, it may be a good idea to keep your bills indefinitely for personal records.
Another document you will receive is an explanation of benefits, or EOB. This happens after your insurance company has started processing your claims. EOBs may show medical codes for procedures and treatments, the names of doctors and hospitals that are billing you, and how much your insurance is paying to these different providers. You should study them. You will see that the amount you owe each provider is the same on the bill and the EOB. Comparing your EOBs to your monthly statements is a good way to understand what you are being charged for, and it gives you another opportunity to look for overcharges. Unlike medical bills, EOBs should be kept from three to eight years after your procedure, or indefinitely if you have a reoccurring condition.
Create your storage system.
One way to store your medical bills and EOBs is to digitize them. Some home printers have document scanner options. Alternatively, you could snap a photo of your bills with a smart device. However, keeping these images in your photo gallery may not be the best idea. Consider using an app like Adobe Scan, which will make clear scans and save your images as a PDF. Microsoft Office Suite users may consider Microsoft Office Lens, which has text-recognition and can output your scan as a Word document. Remember to organize your files and save them to an external hard drive or a cloud service.
At minimum, if you have a fireproof filing cabinet, consider tossing everything in there and dealing with it later. When you find yourself sorting through the paperwork months or years later, you can be at ease knowing that most of your old medical bills can be cleared out or converted to digital files. Hang on to the EOBs as a summary of procedures, at least until your next filing cabinet overhaul.
While the chaos of sorting through medical bills likely isn’t going away anytime soon, taking steps to get organized can help you feel in control. And, should you need to refer back to a document for any reason down the road, you’ll feel better prepared!
This blog is up to date as of September 2019 and has not been updated for changes in the law, administration or current events.