OLYMPIA — As of Friday, 4 million Washingtonians are eligible for free or reduced-cost care at hospitals across Washington as a result of legislation sought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Legislation requires larger hospital systems to provide more financial assistance. As of July 1, about half of all Washington residents are eligible for free or reduced-cost care at hospitals that account for about 80 percent of the state’s licensed beds.
Ferguson worked with lead sponsor, Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton, and Reps. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, and Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, on HB 1616 to strengthen Washington’s charitable care law. The Ferguson Attorney General’s Demand Act expands eligibility for charitable care to more than one million Washingtonians and guarantees free hospital care to an additional million Washingtonians who are currently eligible for discounted care.
“This is a historic achievement for affordable health care,” Ferguson said. “Too many Washingtonians are just one hospital bill away from the financial crisis. Our new law moves us away from a system where a single mother working two jobs at minimum wage was entitled to no help with her medical bills. hospital, to something that helps about half the people of Washington. That’s the thing to do. Make sure you know what kind of help you’re entitled to, and if you’re not getting it not, contact my office.
“No Washingtonian should be bankrupted by a trip to the ER,” Rep. Simmons said. “I am proud to have worked with the Attorney General to update and standardize Washington’s charitable care law. Four million Washingtonians will now be eligible for free or reduced hospital fees, making our healthcare system fairer and more equitable.
The Ferguson and Simmons legislation establishes two levels of financial assistance – one for large health care systems and another for small independent hospitals. The new law gives Washington the strongest protections in the nation for out-of-pocket hospital expenses.
Nationally, about two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key contributor, and more than half of recoveries on credit reports are for medical debt.
Access to care is also an equity issue, as communities of color are disproportionately underinsured and particularly vulnerable to catastrophic and unforeseen medical expenses.
For example, according to 2019 data from the Federal Reserve, the median black household bank account balance is around $1,500, less than one-fifth of the median white household balance of $8,200. The median account balance for Latino households is around $2,000. One in five people in the majority of non-white ZIP codes have at least one outstanding medical debt on their credit report.
Who is eligible:
The new law significantly increases eligibility for full waivers of out-of-pocket hospital charges, as well as expanding eligibility for rebates. The law ensures that all Washingtonians below 300% of the federal poverty level are eligible for financial assistance, with rebates of up to 400% of the federal poverty level for the vast majority of hospital beds in Washington.
SHB 1616 guarantees approximately 3 million Washingtonians access to free hospital care at Tier 1 hospitals and discounted care at Tier 2 hospitals typically located in rural communities. About 4 million Washingtonians will have access to free or discounted hospital care at Tier 1 hospitals, which account for about 80% of all licensed beds.
For example, a family of four with an income of up to $111,000 will now be eligible for a reduction of up to 50% of their out-of-pocket costs at Tier 1 hospitals. A family of four earning up to $55,500 can now pay zero out-of-pocket at any hospital in the state.
The previous law provided full waivers only for those earning up to 100% of the federal poverty level — up to $17,420 a year for a two-person household — and tapering discounts of up to 200%. About 1.8 million Washingtonians were eligible for financial assistance under this law. A single parent working two minimum-wage jobs at 50 hours a week was not eligible for financial assistance at Washington hospitals. The new law changes that.
Unofficial table of hospital levels: