Consumer Reports Survey Finds Nearly One-in-Three Washingtonians Received Surprise Medical Bill

Daniela Nuñez
Social Media Program Manager

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Today, the Washington House Healthcare & Wellness committee will hold a hearing on new legislation that would protect Washington consumers from surprise bills for emergency care. Just in time for the hearing, our Consumer Reports National Research Center completed a new representative survey of Washington residents’ experiences with surprise bills. We found that 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. 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 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 wrote to the House committee in strong support of 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. The bill was requested by Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and sponsored by Representative Eileen Cody.

Washington’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said: “Surprise billing could happen to anyone, and it typically happens after the most vulnerable times in a person’s life. What’s so frustrating is that people believe they’ve done everything right. They made it through a medical crisis only to discover that now they have a financial crisis – through no fault of their own. Our bill is straightforward: it takes the patient out of the equation.”

We’ve heard from over 100 Washington residents who have written us about their unexpected bills, including bills from out-of-network emergency room doctors, last-minute switches from in-network to out-of-network doctors, and out-of-network services ancillary to emergency care. Most assumed anyone they had seen at an in-network facility would also participate in the network. David Moulton from Seattle told us he received an out-of-network bill over $700 from an ER doctor that he paid to avoid any credit issues. In his interview with the Seattle Times yesterday, he said: “I think if they are going to do business in a hospital, they need to honor what that hospital does,” he said. “How am I gonna check an ER doc? How am I gonna check an anesthesiologist?” It’s especially true in an emergency situation, he added: “That is the farthest thing from your mind, plus you might not even be conscious to ask.”

In emergency situations, it should be enough that you go to in-network hospital for your care. You shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll get hit with surprise out-of-network costs. It’s unfair to add a financial surprise to a medical one – lawmakers should take action! HB 2447 would protect consumers in emergency room situations by taking them out of the billing battle. If you live in Washington, ask your lawmaker to support HR 2447, a crucial consumer protection for Washington residents. We need supporters from all over Washington to help us push for an end to surprise medical bills.

Check out more local coverage here and here. If you live in Washington and want to support our campaign, leave a comment below, email us, or tweet at us @ConsumersUnion. Follow the Twitter conversation at #surprisemedbills.

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