By Mark Frauenfelder
In recent years, utilities, credit card issuers and banks have made a real effort to redesign their statements so they’re easier for their customers to understand. In many cases they’ve succeeded, and I’m grateful.
But for some reason, my health insurer (Anthem Blue Cross) has continued to send me the same kind of inscrutable “Explanation of Benefits” letter that it has sent for years. It’s filled with information that is of no value to me, including machine-readable bar codes and glyphs (who are these for?—the letters don’t say). And the kind of information I would like to know is incomplete. For example, the letters include the “member’s medical deductible applied to date” but doesn’t say what the deductible actually is, or how much is remaining.
To make matters worse, these laughably named “explanation of benefit” notices don’t include a bill to let me pay the outstanding balance on a medical visit. Instead, I receive bills directly from the care provider, which are often sent before the insurance benefits kick in. Other times the bills arrive many months after the service was performed, containing urgent language about how late the bill is, even though it’s the first I ever heard about it.
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I was resigned to living with this messy and frustrating situation, until someone told me about Simplee.com, describing it as “Mint.com for health care.” I registered and gave Simplee permission to access my family’s Anthem medical insurance account. Simplee crunched all the available data from my online Anthem account and created a blessedly easy-to-read dashboard that showed my health care costs since the beginning of the year, my out-of-pocket expenses, my medical deductible, the number of doctors visits my family had, and the outstanding bills for medical services. It also showed how much our pharmacy costs were, and described our medical plan in plain English. Best of all, Simplee’s clear “explanation of benefit” notices are things of beauty. Anthem could learn much from Simplee.
Now, when I get a medical bill, I pay it through Simplee instead of directly to the provider. Like Mint, Simplee is one of those websites I pray doesn’t go out of business because I find it so useful. I expect it’ll eventually start making making money by recommending health care services, in the same way that Mint.com offers personal finance services, but even if Simplee starts charging users a subscription fee, I would pay to use it.
Mark Frauenfelder Credit.com contributor, editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and the founder of the popular site Boing Boing. Mark was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998 and is the founding editor of Wired Online. He covers creative DIY projects and how-tos that will help you make the most of your money.
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