Author: Suzanne KuhnDocument Management Paper Special Needs

How Long Should I Keep Explanations of Benefits from Medicare and Health Insurance Companies?

As an organizer of medical and financial records for seniors and others affected by age, illness and disability, I get this question a lot.  A person with multiple medical conditions can quickly acquire cartons of paperwork from Medicare, doctors’ offices, and health insurance companies.

It’s helpful to start with what medical EOBs prove:

  • The services the doctor, hospital, or other healthcare entity has provided.
  • The amount the doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider has billed for those services.
  • The amount the medical insurance company and/or Medicare have paid.
  • The amount for which you, the patient or insurance subscriber, are responsible.

So, medical EOBs can be useful for:

  • Creating (or re-creating) a health history for yourself or someone under your care.
  • Documenting billing errors – or even fraud.
  • Ensuring that you are receiving the full insurance benefits to which you are entitled.
  • Proving that you’ve met your annual deductible, if your health insurance policy has one.
  • Demonstrating what you have paid if you take the medical expense deduction on your annual IRS 1040 Schedule A.

Obviously, keeping medical EOBs is worthwhile for some period of time.  What to do with it all and how long to keep these records will vary with your personal situation.  Here are two sets of guidelines for medical EOB retention periods and good practices – one for people in normal health and one for people with chronic, debilitating or terminal health conditions:

Normal Health

1.  Keep medical EOBs in a file for one year.  As the bills and EOBs for a medical service come in, match related items together, and address any discrepancies you detect.  Examples might include double billing or your health insurance company overlooking the fact that you have met your deductible.

2.  If, at the end of the year, you find you have paid enough in medical bills to qualify for the medical tax deduction, file the medical EOBs with your tax documentation, and keep for seven years.

3.  If you do not qualify for the medical tax deduction, and the medical bills have been paid in full by you and all providers, and you are no longer doctoring for the condition, you can safely shred last year’s crop of medical EOBs while you’re wrapping up your taxes.

4.  If some bills are still outstanding or the patient is still receiving treatment, keep the related EOBs for another year, and repeat the process.

Serious Health Condition

1.  Keep a current file close at hand for this year’s medical EOBs.  As the bills and EOBs for a medical service come in, match related items together, and address any discrepancies you detect.

2.  At the end of the year, store all of these records in date order, keeping items you’ve matched up together, in a less prominent place.  You could use a file cabinet in another room or a cardboard file box in a dry, mildew-free storage area.  If you claimed the medical tax deduction, put a note in your tax records cross-referencing these health files.

3.  Keep these medical records according to this timeline:

a.  For five years after the serious health condition has cleared up.

b.  For seven years if you’ve claimed the medical deduction.

c.  Indefinitely, if the patient is chronically ill.

d.  Until the executor informs you that the estate is completely wrapped up, if the patient has passed away.

In both of the above situations, you can keep the medical records on paper or scanned onto a computer based on your preference.  If you keep paper files, keep them out of areas where they can get wet, e.g., a basement floor.   If you go the electronic route, be sure to back up your data reliably.

One final note:  Don’t panic if you need one or more medical EOBs or haven’t kept them according to the above guidelines.  All health insurers, including Medicare, can replace an EOB, because they store them electronically.

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33 Responses

  1. Darla says:

    This is the best explanation of if and how to store EOBs that I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Deanna says:

    Informative article. Thank you.

    Still, I don’t know *why* I need to keep EOBs indefinitely if I still have a chronic illness.

    I have been keeping them, for lack of organization and then for thinking it might be helpful for tracking the course and treatment of an illness.

    Would like to hear your thoughts on this so I can shred and toss any of the piles of EOBs that I have.

    Thank you.

  3. Barbara Miller says:

    Great explanation, thank you. Can you tell me if diabetes and epilepsy come under “serious medical condition”? My husband has both. He does not take insulin and the epilepsy is under control with his meds. Thanks, again. Barbara Miller

  4. I now can shred my old claim summaries. I have them going back 13 years. I will keep the current and shred the rest. Thank you very much. My desk draws thank you.

  5. Thank you ever so much for the information. I have claim summaries going back 13 years. Now I can keep the current and shred the rest. Thank you again Lorraine LaForce

  6. Darlene F. Worley says:

    Ihave kept papers of medicare since the year 2013. my husband passed away june,2014. should I still keep all his papers as well as mine. so far I have year 2013 & 2014 . thank you, Darlene Worley

  7. I jus wonder what to do. I have a lot of paper work

  8. Thank you so much..I have reams of paper on my daughters medical file from many many years so now will dispose of them properly!

  9. Cindi Beattie says:

    How long should I keep summary notices after someone is deceased?

    • Hi Cindi,

      You should keep summary notices until the executor of the person’s estate files the final accounting with the county’s Register of Wills. The deadline for this is generally two years after the person’s death. Some estates wrap up quickly and the report is filed in less than two years. Some complicated estates make take more than two years to wrap up. But the executor will know this. If you are the executor, plan on a massive shredding of all the person’s paperwork after the final accounting has been filed.

      Suzanne Kuhn

  10. Alicia LACHER says:

    My brother has developmentsl disabilities? Should i keep his eob’s indefinitely or just the current ones?

    • For an individual with ongoing developmental disabilities, I would keep two years of EOBs. Each time a new one arrives, shred its counterpart from 2 years ago. And always look over the EOB when it arrives; question anything that doesn’t look right. The point of all this record-keeping is to make sure you and your health insurance are being correctly charged.

  11. Doris Mernack says:

    My husband passed away May 1 2010, and all medical bills have been paid, do I need to save his EOB s? D

    • Doris: Very sorry for your loss. If there is no legal business left over from your deceased husband’s illness (for example, an open malpractice suit) and if the final report on his estate has been filed with the state you live in (in PA, that’s 2 years after death), it is safe to get rid of all those EOBs. Just be sure to SHRED them, because they contain confidential information like Social Security numbers.

  12. Sharon Laramie says:

    We just received an overpayment statement from our insurance company for medical bills ten and eleven years ago. They stated that Medicare should have paid first and then this insurance company. Can they go back that far? They want $1600 in 14 days. Most of it is prior to Medicare Part B coverage and we can prove that.
    Their error!!! and we have to pay for it???

  13. Susan Pearson says:

    I think this will be very helpful. I’m 61 and had breast cancer, have a pacemaker, and currently have depression and anxiety. Some sites have recommended getting copies of EVERYTHING from each doctor, each hospital case, etc. That would qualify me for a paid medical-record manager, since I have had stuff going since being a child. Do I really have to do all that to have proper organization of medical records?

  14. Susan Pearson says:

    Specifics: My breast cancer was 2005 with no recurrence (11 years out). Got the first pacemaker in 2001. The heart condition and psychiatric treatments need to be for life. I have not kept everything throughout my life, and don’t have everything since I was born. Diagnosed with the mental conditions in 1998 and may not have kept all that. What happens if I just don’t have everything on all my history since birth?

  15. Amy says:

    Can you recommend a good program for an individual to purchase if they would like to scan and maintain a searchable EHR and try to reduce the paper load? Thank you

  16. Amy says:

    I have heard of the Evernote previously but was not fully aware of all of it’s capabilities. I will do more research. Thank you for your input and rapid response.

  17. Linda Hickey says:

    my husband passed away in May 2009 and did not have a will as it was totally unexpected and has no debts. How long before I can shred all payments made by the insurance company to the doctors which I kept a complete file with copies of checks forwarded or signed over to the doctors. Thank you for your kindattention to this request and look forward to your response. Sincerely,

    • Linda,
      “It’s always best to be conservative about documentation where death and taxes are involved. Seven years from the date of payment would the safest rule of thumb to apply to your situation. My sincere condolences on the untimely passing of your husband, and bless you for being so conscientious about his affairs.”

      Suzanne Kuhn

  18. I had no idea that a medical EOB could be used to create a health history for yourself or someone under your care. My mother is about to turn 65, so she needs to sign up for Medicare. I’ll pass this information onto her, but she may want to consult with a professional to help her understand Medicare.

  19. Patricia Charles says:

    Thank you for the help. If the person is deceased , only had medicaid and medicare. Non estate and for the most part basic medical care and hospice. How long should paper work be kept.

  20. I agree that it is helpful to start with what medical EOBs prove. A lot of people don’t know that. So you’d be helping all of them out.

  21. Thanks for sharing such great information. It is really helpful to me. I always search to read the quality content and finally I found your post. Keep it up, keep posting!

  22. Rick Jones says:

    I agree that a person could get a ton of paperwork if they have a lot of medical conditions. So I think these people should get it all on one document or in some kind of pamphlet. Maybe a manual of some kind.

  23. Awesome content. Thank you for sharing this wealth of information. It was very interesting and very useful content. I’m definitely pinning it to share!

  24. Millie Hue says:

    It really helped when you said that we can keep the medical records on paper or they can be scanned to the computer. I would definitely want a scanned copy to ensure that they will not get damaged by pests or water. This can be a huge help once I get health insurance coverage for myself to ensure that I can file for reimbursements or claims, because I definitely have a limited budget due to my savings.

  25. a great question and great information

  26. nam says:

    good look

  27. Thanks so much for the guide on what to keep when it comes to medicare documents. My parents are starting to think about medicare and how it works. They’ve been looking into finding some providers that can help them through the process.

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