Growing Momentum for Ending Surprise Medical Bills in Washington
On the heels of a new Consumer Reports survey released this week, which found that nearly 1 in 3 Washington residents received a surprise medical bill in the past two years, our campaign story sharer, Julie Drake of Tacoma, drove to the Washington Capitol to attend the first public hearing of proposed legislation (HB 2447) that would address surprise medical bills for emergency care. She joined other champions for ending surprise bills in Washington – Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Northwest Health Law Advocates.
Julie gave a compelling testimony about how out-of-network emergency bills caught her by surprise. After calling ahead of time to confirm the hospital was in-network, she went to the ER for kidney stone pain and after receiving treatment, she received a whopping bill. Fortunately, her husband was able to fight the bill down while Julie was recovering, but it wasn’t easy. She said: “I know we have a complicated, often cumbersome, always expensive healthcare system in our country, but the people trying to do the right thing purchasing the best coverage that they can afford, should not be the ones getting slammed with these surprise costs.”
— Consumers Union (@ConsumersUnion) January 20, 2016
Janet Varon of Northwest Health Law Advocates, requested that Washington lawmakers support legislation to protect consumers against surprise bills and debt. Said Janet: “People should be able to get emergency care without fear that they will be hit with large out-of-network costs. And there is no limit on the amount that out-of-network providers can charge: They can ‘balance bill’ you for any amount not reimbursed by the insurer.”
Surprise medical bills are not unfamiliar to Washington residents or others across the country. One lawmaker on the House committee said that he supported the legislation because his own family had experienced this. As our survey results found, of those that received a surprise medical bill, 14 percent were charged at an out-of-network rate when they thought a provider was in-network. And the size of these bills can be enough to make someone work extra hours, cut important household spending, or damage someone’s credit. Consumers shouldn’t have to be the losers in a billing tug-of-war between insurers and providers.
The WA House Healthcare & Wellness committee will meet again later this month to discuss this legislation (HB 2447), which would make insurers and out-of-network providers work out surprise emergency medical bills, rather than sticking patients with them. If patients receive emergency care from a hospital approved by their insurance plan, they would pay only the expected charges. We strongly support this legislation because it’s time Washington residents get protection from surprise bills.
If you live in Washington, join HB 2447 supporters like Julie and Janet, and demand that lawmakers protect you from surprise medical bills. At the hearing, we showed how this problem affects real people, and momentum is growing for a commonsense solution to end these unfair hospital emergency bills. If you don’t live in Washington, we still need your help to pass reforms across the country on surprise medical bills. Share your story now and help us show just how much these surprise medical bills are costing us money and peace of mind.