Catching Mistakes When Paying Bills for Your Medical Practice

October 17, 2012

The phone bill, utilities, bank charges - dealing with these bills at your medical practice should mirror your personal approach.

Overcharges by companies - cell phone service providers, credit card issuers, utilities, banks and more - are commonplace. In fact, they could be costing you and your medical practice hundreds of dollars a year.

These errors aren’t deliberate. Companies point out that overbilling actually costs them money because customer service representatives must spend valuable time dealing with the resulting billing complaints.

Bottom line: It’s up to you to scrutinize what you are charged and then question what you don’t understand.

This job is best delegated to the staff member (often the manager) who does the check-writing.

Banks
Common errors:
Misapplied charges, such as check-writing fees when you signed up for free checking, bounced-check fees when your account has overdraft protection, out-of-network ATM fees when you didn’t use an ATM outside your bank’s network.

What to do: Call the number on your statement within 60 days from the date their statement was mailed - most will quickly remove such fees.

Telephone CompaniesCommon errors: Charges you paid in the previous month that appear on your bill again because they weren’t credited to your account, fees for services you didn’t order, such as call-waiting, unreasonably high charges because a discount plan you signed up for was discontinued. Example: Your plan had a rate of five cents per minute for calls to Canada. Several months later, the plan was discontinued, but you never saw the notice. Your new rate is 25 cents a minute.

What to do: Complain to the phone company. It may correct your practice's bill and offer to switch you to another plan that will save you some money - it might charge you less than 25 cents but more than five cents. In general, you should report mistakes and/or overcharges to your phone company as soon as you receive your statement. You have 60 days to dispute unauthorized pay-per-call charges.

Helpful: Consider a one-price plan - for instance, an unlimited monthly domestic calling plan as part of your long-distance service. Anything you can do to simplify the number of charges on your bill will reduce the likelihood of mistakes and save you time when scrutinizing the bill.

Credit Cards
Common errors:
Charges from a former service provider that you no longer use, extra charges tacked on by your card company (such as credit insurance or other services it sells and you don’t want), a merchant’s failure to post a credit for returned items, charges for services or goods that you ordered and never received.

What to do: Federal law requires that you first try to resolve the mistake with the company that incorrectly charged you, not the credit card issuer. Technically, to dispute the charge with your credit card company, you must make the request in writing. Practically speaking, many people just call their card issuer.

Review your credit card bills online once a week. You’re more likely to remember what you bought and spot mistakes than if you wait for paper statements to arrive the following month. Also, you’ll have fewer items to check than at the end of the month.

Utility Companies

Common errors: Reading the meter incorrectly, bills based on estimated usage - when a reading cannot be obtained - that are wildly over the mark. Estimated usage is based on your patterns over the past year, so charges might even reflect errors on past bills.

What to do: Demonstrate that the reading is incorrect by taking a picture of the meter or scheduling a time for the utility company to send a meter reader to your office. Check the reading with him/her, and write down the number yourself. If the amount doesn’t match what appears on your bill, report the error to the utility company. If the problem goes unresolved, contact your state public utilities commission.