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Washington state patients get crucial protection against surprise medical bills

Washington residents now have protections against surprise medical billing. ((Images Money, Flickr))

Among other legislation that took effect at the start of 2020 was a bill prohibiting some medical providers from hitting Washington state residents with surprise medical bills.

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The bill is touted as providing some of the strongest protections in the country against large-scale, unexpected medical billing.

“To finally put this issue to rest lifts a weight for many and should give thousands of consumers more piece of mind,” said Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler in a news release.

The legislation provides protections in certain scenarios against a practice known as balance billing, where a health care provider will charge a patient for the difference between the sum cost of medical services, and the amount covered by insurance.

More specifically, the bill prohibits balance billing in cases where a patient receives emergency care in an out-of-network emergency room, and for any non-emergency medical procedure at an in-network hospital.

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Washington is one of just 13 states to close balance billing loopholes.

This came as many told stories of surprise bills from hospitals for short stays as high as $100,000.

“For more than a decade, we’ve heard from many people hit with a balance or surprise medical bill,” said Kreidler. “They shared their stories of receiving a bill on top of what they expected to pay, despite going to their health plan’s hospital or facility. Just within the last year we learned of two consumers who received surprise bills of over $100,000 and who both faced losing their homes and medical bankruptcy.”

These aren’t the only measures taking effect in 2020 designed to ease medical debt. Also getting passed in the last Legislative session was a trio of bills addressing debt collection, including one prohibiting the sale of medical debt to a collection agency for 120 days.

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