Consumer Reports survey finds nearly one-in-three Washingtonians received surprise medical bill

Experts

Director, Special Projects

January 19, 2016

New Data Comes as House Committee Holds Hearing on Legislation to End Balance Billing in ER Care

Nearly one in three privately insured Washington state residents received a surprise medical bill where their health plan paid less than expected in the past two years, according to a new representative survey of 367 Washington residents by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. 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.

The new survey comes as the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee holds a Wednesday hearing on proposed legislation to protect consumers from surprise emergency services bills. H.B. 2447 would ensure that consumers only pay expected charges if they receive emergency care from a hospital approved by their insurance plan. The survey shows how unexpected these out-of-network bills can be, as 74 percent of Washington residents expected that if they went to an in-network hospital or surgery center all providers who treated them there would also be in-network.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, applauded Washington regulators for their work to end surprise ER bills and urged state lawmakers to move forward on H.B. 2447.

“In an emergency situation, the last thing on a consumer’s mind is to check whether every provider they see – and often don’t even get to meet – is covered by their insurance plan. But even if you go to a hospital in your network, the unfortunate fact is that there is no guarantee that all your treatment will be treated as in-network,” said Betsy Imholz, Director of Special Projects for Consumers Union. “This survey shows how common these surprise out-of-network bills are. But consumers shouldn’t be the losers in the billing tug-of-war between doctors and insurers. H.B. 2447 would protect consumers by taking them out of the billing battle. We urge lawmakers to support this legislation and move it forward.”

After hearing from thousands of consumers who had been hit with surprise medical bills, Consumers Union launched the End Surprise Medical Bills campaign to help put an end to these unfair bills for good. Consumers can visit EndSurpriseMedicalBills.org to share their surprise medical bill story, sign our petition, or use our Insurance Complaint Tool for state-specific assistance, resources and information. Consumers Union is also working in several states, including Washington, to help pass legislation to strengthen protections against surprise medical bills. The group was a strong proponent of the New York law banning balance billing in emergency medical situations, which went into effect last year.

PLEASE NOTE:  Consumers Union can connect reporters with consumers who have been hit with surprise emergency care bills.  For more information, contact Kara Kelber at kara.kelber@consumer.org.