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    Wednesday, August 31, 2005

    Help for the Overwhelmed: Quicken is coming out later this month with a medical expense manager program that tracks medical bills. I recently tried a demo and found it very useful, especially for those who have to track medical savings accounts and deductibles, and those with chronic illnesses that beget numerous simultaneous bills.

    Like the Quicken accounting programs, it has an easy to use format. Data isn't written in stone once it's entered, but can be edited. The entire family's (including the family pet's) medical, dental, and drug expenses can be tracked in detail - including co-pays, insurance payments, and out of pocket expenses. If you've ever received an "Explanation of Benefits," - those confusing documents from the insurance companies that always say "THIS IS NOT A BILL" but look suspiciously like a bill, you know how confusing even the simplest medical payment can be. This program helps to begin to make sense of the madness.

    Consider a typical medical encounter in the Medpundit household, a family with catastrophic insurance and a medical savings account . Even though we have a high deductible and in practice end up paying all of our health bills ourself, we don't pay at the time of our visit. Instead, the doctor's office sends the bill to our insurance company which then sends an "EOB" or "explanation of benefits" to the doctor reminding him that his office gives the insurance company (and thus us) a discount. The doctor's office then sends us a bill with the discount subtracted, and finally several months and a couple of dunning letters later, we pay the bill. (The dunning letters aren't because we ignored the bill, but because we've been waiting for that dialogue to occur between the insurance company and the doctor's office.)

    Fortunately for us, we're a healthy family with only sporadic and easily tracked medical bills. But, for a household with even one chronic illness keeping track of the where in the billing quagmire each healthcare encounter happens to be at any one point in time can be a nightmare.
    The medical expense manager tracks the bills from the day of the initial encounter to the final pay-off, with a detail page that provides fields for comments (always get names when you speak to someone about a billing issue), co-pays, and insurance write-offs..

    The program also has templates for billing dispute letters that, although they require some editing to fit individual circumstances, contain good advice, such as recommending which details and supporting documents to include with the letter. And most important, the reminder to be "courteous and professional." Having myself received dispute letters full of biting, sarcastic comments, I can attest that courteous and professional is far more likely to get results. While biting sarcasm may provide catharsis, it also often obscures the facts, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of the dispute is.

    Conveniently, come tax time, all the information needed for tax deductions is at your fingertips and tallied - from medical savings account expenditures and co-pays to mileage. (Did you know you can deduct mileage to and from the doctor? I didn't.) While the program may be overkill for those with minimal health expenses, it could be a great help for those with numerous medical bills. One feature that it doesn't include is a searchable data base of ICD-9 and CPT codes, which would allow users to decipher those cryptic numbers that appear on medical bills in place of plain English to name diseases and procedures. It's something for the software developers to keep in mind for future updates. And while they're at it, perhaps they could come up with a version for Mac users.

    UPDATE: Screen shot samples available here.

    UPDATE II: UPDATE: Lots of people hate Quicken (see here, too):

    Quicken has a rep for forcing upgrades on users at considerable prices, sometimes incompatible with what you have. You might want to be very careful about getting into bed with this company.

    I didn't "get into bed" with the company. I reviewed their software, and liked what I saw. For what it's worth, I've been using Quicken 2002 for some time to keep track of my expenses. I find it easier to balance my accounts against my bank statement with it than with the accounting program my accountant expects me to use. I've yet to have a problem with it. However, I don't use its online features. I don't want anyone or anything communicating with my bank account. And, as far as I can tell from the demo, there's no on-line feature of the medical expense manager, so how could they force an upgrade?

    Truthfully, I'm kind of bemused by the whole issue. I thought forced upgrades were par for the course in the software industry.

    posted by Sydney on 8/31/2005 07:48:00 AM 1 comments


    Intuit made a lot of progress since the time of this review. Specifically to include downloading of claims data from health plans.

    Read the interview with Mike Battaglia: CDHCC Tech Wrap: Intuit Interview and the State of Consumer Health IT

    By Anonymous The Medical Blog Network, at 4:54 AM  

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