Washington Legislature Passes Expanded Charity Care Bill

The Washington state legislature has passed a bill that would expand the state’s charity care law and make free healthcare available to individuals making 300% of the federal poverty level.

The bill, HB 1616, now moves to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, for his signature or veto.

Currently, state law in Washington allows anyone making less than 100% of the federal poverty level eligible to have their medical debts forgiven. Hospitals have the freedom to institute policies above and beyond what is required under state law.

Under the new bill, anyone making up to 200% of the federal poverty limit would not be billed for any out-of-pocket costs for hospital visits. For larger hospitals, which account for 80% of all beds in the state, individuals making up to 300% of the federal poverty limit would not have any out-of-pocket medical costs. For those making 400% of the limit, they would be eligible for a 50% discount. For smaller hospitals, the 50% discount applies to anyone making 300% of the federal poverty limit.

The federal poverty limit is currently $17,420 for a two-person household.

“Too many Washingtonians are just one hospital bill away from financial crisis,” said Bob Ferguson, the Attorney General of Washington and architect of the bill, in a statement. “Under current law, a single parent working two minimum wage jobs at 50 hours per week was not eligible for financial assistance at Washington hospitals — that’s not right and it needed to change. This bill ensures that help is there for those who need it.”

Under the current law, a singe parent working two minimum-wage jobs at 50 hours per week is not eligible for financial assistance, the AG noted. The new law guarantees free hospital care to 3 million Washington residents at Tier I hospitals and discounted care at Tier II hospitals, generally located in rural communities.

If signed into law, the new measures will go into effect on July 1.

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