Millions more patients in Washington could soon have access to charity care

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Charity care is a necessity for families all over the state and hospitals have written off hundreds of millions of dollars of care to those in need, keeping them from suffering crushing medical debt.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says that’s not enough and is asking for a massive expansion of these programs.

“And many people are just one paycheck away from having real financial difficulties. And in Washington state we don’t provide enough assistance for medical debt that we should. And we’re trying to change that,” Ferguson said.

Today, only families making up to around $22,000 a year or 100% of the federal poverty level for a family of three are guaranteed a full write-off of hospital costs.

The new law would provide no out of pocket costs for residents making up to 300% of the federal poverty level or $66,000 for the same size family.

The bill also offers discounted costs at 301 to 400% of the federal poverty level.

“It literally would be a couple million Washingtonians would benefit from this bill if the legislature adopts it,” Ferguson said.

But this all comes with a cost. Hospitals in this state already write off more than $180 million in charity care each year.

‘There is no reimbursement for charity care. This is fully covered by hospitals. There, this is fully covered by hospitals. There aren’t any programs that will reimburse for this. Insurers do not have to cover any portion of this,” said Beth Zborowski with the Washington Hospital Association.

Zborowski is concerned the change could cause some residents to stop purchasing health insurance

“We also have concerns that it might disincentive people from seeking insurance at all. And that then could make what is supposed to be a safety net program in fact the option that people use to get access to healthcare,” Zborowski said.

The group is also worried about an unfair financial balance between the earning differences in urban and rural areas.

“I think the risk more for this proposal and this expansion is to the services that rural hospitals are able to offer in their communities. If they are doing more free and reduced care they may have to look at cutting other community benefit programs. Or other services that are not financially viable for them,” Zborowski said.

Everyone at KIRO 7 is well aware of medical debt. Three years ago, the station and viewers through their generous donations eliminated more than $3 million in medical debt for people in our region.

The Washington Hospital Association supports many of the ideas found in the bill-but the group will ask for changes.

Ferguson says he’s willing to talk.

But what residents tell me they want is affordable health care for everyone.

“Of course. I mean look anything you do that is going to be meaningful relief is going to have opposition. But you know what, it’s my hope this has strong bipartisan support because guess what Jesse. Every elected official has thousands of constituents that face medical debt and this would provide real relief,” Ferguson said.

Email Jesse right now at consumer@kiro7.com