What Happens When My Medical Claim is Denied?

Needing medical care can be stressful and overwhelming. For many of us, that burden is somewhat lifted because we have health insurance. But what if your insurance company denies your medical claim? Are you stuck with the bill, or can you appeal? Let’s find out…

Here are the top 3 most common reasons a medical claim is denied:

  1. Your service or treatment is considered a “non-covered service.”
  2. You didn’t get the appropriate pre-approvals prior to receiving treatment.
  3. Your service was considered “not medically necessary.”


Today, let’s look at each of the 3 most common denial reasons and see what to do if this happens to you. For a more comprehensive list, check out the bottom of this blog.*

1. Your Service Is a Non-Covered Service

Sometimes, your service is considered non-covered. That means when your employer and health insurer decide how much healthcare to cover, this didn’t make the list. That means they expect you to pay for this service yourself and it is not part of your health benefits. However, there are always exceptions.

Example 1: Sandra was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo chemo and lost her hair. She had a high-profile job where her appearance was important and going to work bald was considered disruptive. Ordinarily the insurance company would not cover a wig, but in this case they felt it was necessary for her to continue working. The insurance company decided to make an exception and cover the wig for Sandra. The wig was called a “cranial prosthetic.”

Example 2: Normally cosmetic plastic surgery is not covered by health insurance. However, Jim was in a fire and suffered severe damage to his face and hands. The insurance company may consider covering plastic surgery in his case because it is not for cosmetic reasons.

What to do if this happens to you?
If you get your Explanation of Benefits or a bill from the doctor saying your service was denied as a  non-covered service, first call your insurance company’s customer service number.

Make sure you get enough information from them to understand their opinion and why they made this determination.. If you still believe your treatment should have been covered, you can file an appeal.  Check your insurer’s website to find out how their appeals process works.

If you do end up having to pay cash, always ask for a discount from the provider.

2. You Didn’t Get the Appropriate Pre-Approvals

Many insurance companies will require a pre-certification, pre-authorization, or a referral to a specialist before you receive care. If you don’t get the appropriate pre-approvals, the insurance company can deny your claim. Most of the time, the provider you are visiting will obtain the prior approvals for you.  Be sure to check with your insurer before receiving care.

Example: Sujatha fell and hurt her knee.  She has a friend who is a physical therapist, so Sujatha made an appointment to see her friend at her clinic.  When she got to the clinic, she was asked to pay cash for the visit.  After she received her bill, Sujatha submitted it to her insurer for reimbursement.  The claim was denied.  She needed both a doctor’s order and a per-certification specifying the number of approved visits.

What to do if this happens to you?
If you didn’t get the appropriate pre-approvals, you can still try to appeal. First call the customer service number for your insurance company and talk to the agent. Ask them if there is any way you can get these claims paid for if you get a referral now.

If the insurance company says they won’t pay, follow their official process to appeal. Once you submit your appeal, it will be reviewed and either approved or denied.

3. Your Service Was Considered Not Medically Necessary

Your insurance company reviews claims and determines whether or not they are medically necessary. That means, does your treatment fall within normal and usual course of action for your illness. If your insurance company believes your treatment is outside the usual course of treatment, it may deny the service.

Example: Tom’s doctor prescribed Lipitor instead of a low-cost generic medication. His insurance company denied coverage because a less-expensive drug was available. Generic drugs are just as safe and effective at treating his condition, so the insurance company denied his medication.

In Tom’s case though, he has a bad reaction to an inactive ingredient (an ingredient like a binder that keeps the pill together) in the generic version of Lipitor. That’s why his doctor needed to prescribe the brand-name drug.

What to do if this happens to you?
This one may be the “easiest” of the three to get fixed. If your doctor prescribed a medication or ordered a procedure, he thought it was medically necessary.

Again, call your insurance company and find out what information they need to get this claim covered. They may ask your doctor to fill out and send in a Medical Necessity form.

Contact your provider and tell them your service was denied because it was not considered medically necessary. Then give them the information they need to help you out. Most physicians will help you as a normal part of their practice.

Medicare Corner

Traditional (Original) Medicare
Medicare works a little bit differently. If a Medicare claim was denied, follow the steps to file a traditional Medicare appeal. There are 5 levels of Medicare appeals. If you disagree with the outcome of a certain level, you can generally go to the next appeal level.

Medicare Advantage
If you have a Medicare Advantage (Managed Medicare) plan, the appeals process is slightly different than  traditional (original) Medicare. If you’d like to file an appeal, follow these steps to file a Medicare Advantage appeal.

So, if your medical claim is denied, you still have options. But the bottom line is, step outside the rules, and you could pay more.


*An insurance company can deny a medical claim for a number of reasons not listed above. Here are a few other reasons your medical claim could be denied:

  • Your procedure is considered experimental (not covered by the FDA).
  • Your doctor’s office may have incorrect insurance information on file for you, so the insurance denied your claim due to an administrative error.
  • If you changed insurance policies in the middle of a medical procedure, that could lead to a denial.
  • Coordination of benefits, meaning another insurance company  was responsible for your bill (called the primary insurer) and should have been billed first.


  1. Sai | 7 October 2013 at 7:07 am

    Thank you for the details on this page

    Can you please suggest on my issue below?

    ->Wife went to a dentist and he suggetsed treatment that involves 4 sittings with doctor spanning a month.
    –> Doctor’s office called my insurance and then they told me i have to pay $117 and rest is covered by insurance for all 4 sittings.

    –> we chose to go ahead with doctor suggested treatment after seeing it is not expensive as it sums out to be $117.

    –> after 6 months, Now i received letter from Doctor’s office saying the claim was rejected twice by my insurance saying its “not medically necessary” even after resubmitting supported documents.

    –> Now, As it is rejected, Doctor’s office now asks me to pay the balance as insurance did not cover it.

    Do i owe it?

    Please help

    • HooPayz | 7 October 2013 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks for your question. Hopefully, we can help.

      Did you sign anything at the dentist’s office saying you will pay for all services not covered by insurance?

      Did the dentist give you anything in writing, such as the estimate they quoted?

      Here are your options:
      1. Ask the dentist to appeal through the 3 levels available
      2. If it is still denied after appeal, tell the dentist you will pay for 50% of it because they told you it was covered. They should write-off the other 50%.
      3. If they refuse, try to negotiate a discount (up to 30%)
      4. If that doesn’t work, you can refuse to pay but they might send you to a collections agency and then disclose to the credit reporting agencies. It could affect your FICO score.
      5. You can also tell the dentist that, in the event you can’t resolve this amicably, you will put out a bad review on every social media site you can find.
      6. DON’T use this dentist ever again.

  2. Robyn | 28 July 2014 at 8:04 am

    My daughter had 4 impacted wisdom teeth. Oral surgeon office and myself called insurance and got preauthorization saying they would pay after $1200 ded. Now 5 months later I am getting bill and insurance has denied . Shouldn’t they pay this ? We probably would not have done it right now if had to pay whole thing. Our bill is for another $1464.00

    • HooPayz | 28 July 2014 at 8:44 am

      Hi Robyn,

      What is the denial reason the insurance company has listed?

  3. Gaby Martinez | 7 November 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Please help, I have 3 wisdom teeth coming in , all impacted. My top left wisdom tooth is growing the fastest and I can’t even open my jaw comfortably and it is very painful. My insurance has denied me and my dentist denied my request at new X-rays. The last time I took my X-rays were over 6months ago, and they refuse to let me get new ones done , my teeth have came in a lot since then. I have Healthy Families

    • HooPayz | 10 November 2014 at 6:06 am

      Hi Gaby,

      Thank you for your question.

      Depending on the details of your insurance, you may only be covered for one set of X-rays per year. If that is the case, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for that second set of X-rays. You can check the details of your benefits on your insurance company’s website.

      You can also try to appeal with your insurance. If you decide to try this, your dentist must agree to the appeal. Research your insurance’s official process to appeal on their website or call their customer service phone number.

      Finally, if your dentist is unwilling to work with you, you can switch to another provider. Just make sure that the new dentist is within your health insurance network.

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