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Simpler, easy-to-understand medical bills earn cash prizes

Reading your medical bill shouldn't hurt your head.

Woman reviewing paper work
Richard Elliott | Getty Images

The nation's top health official on Monday announced a challenge that will award cash prizes for the best re-designs of medical bills, which are often notoriously difficult to decipher.

The contest wants designs that make bills "simpler, cleaner and easier for people to understand," according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. One $5,000 prize will be awarded to the person, health organization or company that designs a bill that is the easiest to understand.

Another $5,000 prize will go to the best "transformational approach" to improve the medical billing system, by "focusing on what the patient sees and does through their medical cost estimation and billing experience," according to HHS.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced the challenge at the Health Datapalooza conference in Washington.

"This challenge is part of HHS' larger effort to put patients at the center of their own health care," said Burwell.

HHS, in a press release about the challenge, said, "People who use health care in the U.S. today can often receive bills from multiple hospitals, doctors, labs or specialists for the same episode of care that vary in content, presentation and use of health industry jargon."

"Because of this, it can be difficult for patients to understand what they owe, what their insurance plan covers, and whether the bills are correct or complete," HHS said.

The "A Bill You Can Understand" challenge, which is being sponsored by AARP and administered by the design agency Mad*Pow, will accept submissions through Aug. 10, with winners to be announced in September, at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference.

Six health-care systems, which combined handle more than 10 million patient visits annually, have agreed to test or implement the winning solutions, according to HHS.

A New York Times article last year about the difficulty of understanding medical bills noted that one study, sponsored by insurance companies, found that more than 90 percent of hospital bills that were examined had errors in them.