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Startup claims it can stop overcharging on your medical bills

Technically Incorrect: MedBill-IQ says that it looks at your bill and the data within it. Then it negotiates with providers to ensure that charges are -- can this be possible? -- right and reasonable.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Do you understand any of it?

ABC 15 Arizona/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

If you understand your medical bills, you're a finer person than me and likely work for a health insurer.

The numbers always look absurd. The descriptions and categories rarely seem to correspond with the fact that some doctor merely prodded you and sent you home.

Along comes the memorably-named startup MedBill-IQ to claim it knows everything that's going on inside the workings of your bill and it knows when there are mistakes or fakery.

It launched just a couple of weeks ago on iOS and Android, but it's the stories behind it that I was fascinated by.

I asked co-founder Peter Yeh to give me an example of a problem it could solve.

"A lady fell off a ledge and needed to be taken to the hospital," he told me. "The ambulance service billed her directly for the ride and forgot to bill the insurance company. We got the bill and told them to resubmit the claim to the insurance company. The insurance company paid only a small portion, so the ambulance company said she was responsible for the rest. Since emergency services are now covered by Obamacare, we contacted the insurance company to explain the situation and they reprocessed the claim to pay everything but her copay."

The difference? The original bill was $1,700. She ended up paying $150, Yeh told me.

I suspect that many people find the system far too arcane and complex. They get the bill, open it with depressive trepidation and it's almost always worse than they feared. They find a way to pay, just to make it go away.

MedBill-IQ says it won't charge you if it can't save you money.

This is, though, a money-making enterprise. It's the healthcare industry, after all. So the company takes 30 percent of anything it saves you. Yes, just like your friendly local "no win no fee" lawyer.

You upload your bill to the app and you sign an agreement for the company to negotiate on your behalf. Then you wait for the result. You don't, Yeh said, have to give up any elements of your medical history.

What are the most common discrepancies the company encounters?

Yeh pointed to five: First, miscoding of procedures and diagnosis.

"This can include up-coding. The patient comes in for the lowest level evaluation but gets billed for the highest," he told me.

Then there's simply inaccurate or missing claim information. There's also billing the patient for the balance when providers or services are in-network and should be written off.

A classic, of course, is billing you for services that simply weren't performed at all. And finally, he said, there's an unbundling of codes that inflate the bills.

This is all depressingly technical, which is how a lot of medical providers and insurance companies make a depressing amount of money.

You will, of course, be stunned to hear that deductibles and out-of-pocket costs have increased 67 percent since 2010.

"When people get a medical bill, they don't know that it is negotiable to some extent," Yeh's co-founder Yury Furman told me.

Yeh insists that the company does all the negotiating with providers itself. Nothing is outsourced. He also says that even if your bill is accurate, the company will still try to negotiate it.

Medbill-IQ makes it all sound so simple. Which is suspicious in itself.

But with systems as large and painful as healthcare, it's tempting to imagine that there is someone who might make sense of it all and save you money.

We all need a friend who knows more than we do, don't we?