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Health Care & Insurance

Rx for Doctor Bills

Software from Quicken helps track medical expenses.

Francois Bonaparte has gone through the seven circles of medical-bill hell. The 46-year-old resident of Gilroy, Cal., gets as many as six explanation-of-benefits statements a week from three different medical-insurance carriers. Bonaparte is battling prostate cancer, and his 2-year-old daughter, Anna, was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that requires intervention by dozens of specialists.

When the bills first started flooding in, the self-employed businessman paid them and then tried to get back any overpayments. That didn't work. "Doctors don't send checks back," he says. But figuring out what he actually owed was a nightmare. Bonaparte tried to keep the paperwork straight with what he calls a Neanderthal system of file folders and stacks of paper. Often he'd wind up paying late, even though money wasn't an issue. "I couldn't deal with the monster," he says.

Now, thanks to a new software program, Bonaparte knows exactly what he owes. Quicken Medical Expense Manager (www.quickenmedical.com; $70 list price, $50 after a $20 discount; requires Windows 98 or later) makes it easy to track expenses and insurance payments for each family member, a potential boon to millions who suffer from a chronic condition.

How it works. The well-thought-out Medical Log home page summarizes your family's information at a glance and provides links to individual records. It takes only a few minutes to enter data for each doctor visit. The program prompts you for the information it needs -- patient's name, doctor's name, date of service, reason for visit, co-payments and any insurance payments -- and then organizes the information automatically.

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You'll be able to see which bills are pending with your insurer and whether you have any outstanding disputes (if you think you've been billed incorrectly, the program will help you prepare a dispute letter). You can generate a Tax Deduction Report, which tracks your medical-expense deductions and tallies flexible-spending-account expenses. One downside: Medical Manager does not link to Quicken's money-management software. You'll have to enter payments twice.

But Bonaparte no longer dreads opening those explanation-of-benefits envelopes. Now, he says, "I know I can handle it."