10 smart moves to save on health care

Ask for an itemized bill

Even after a complex medical procedure, you may only receive a bill showing the total you owe, especially if the provider has billed your insurance separately.

A provider is required by law to give you an itemized statement — if you ask for it. You should ask because medical bills are notoriously error-prone.

The summary bill you typically receive has little detail, says Pat Palmer, founder and CEO of Salem, Va.-based Medical Billing Advocates of America, which helps patients negotiate fair prices on medical care.

"A provider isn’t going to offer the detailed statement without you requesting it because overcharges can’t be detected without it," she says. "Until they are required to automatically supply a patient with the detailed, itemized statement, you must make sure to request this document for each and every medical bill you receive."

The bills aren’t always easy to read, though.

For help deciphering the five-digit current procedural terminology (CPT) codes that accompany each charge, use the American Medical Association’s search tool.