WASHINGTON — An update to a state law that passed in July means almost half of all Washingtonians now qualify for free or discounted care at hospitals across the state.
The updated "charity care" law adopted by the Washington Legislature ensures as many as four million Washington citizens qualify for reduced out-of-pocket hospital costs, including co-pays and deductibles, and the legislation expanded eligibility for discounts.
The charity care discount applies to all citizens, whether they have public or private medical insurance or if they are uninsured. Receiving a charity care discount does not impact eligibility for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the state Attorney General's Office said.
The Attorney General's Office said in a release that Washington citizens within 300% of the federal poverty level - which is $27,750 for a family of four but varies depending on the size of the family - are eligible for financial assistance for out-of-pocket hospital bills. Families making up to 400% of the federal poverty level could be eligible for financial relief, depending on the hospital.
A single parent working 50 hours per week at two minimum wage jobs was not eligible for financial assistance at Washington state hospitals prior to the recent update, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Now a family of four with a household income up to about $83,000 is eligible for at least a discount at every hospital in the state. That family would be eligible for no out-of-pocket costs at the largest hospitals.
At the state's largest hospitals, a family of four making up to $111,000 per year would be eligible for a discount for out-of-pocket expenses.
The charity care law, which was originally passed in 1989, will establish two tiers of financial assistance. Tier 1 applies to large hospitals and health care systems, which represent 80% of hospital beds statewide. The Attorney General's Office said about 3 million citizens will have access to free hospital care at Tier 1 hospitals, while another million residents will be eligible for discounted care. Tier 2 applies to smaller, independent hospitals, which will offer "slightly smaller" discounts.
The attorney general said Washington's law provides the "strongest protections in the country" for out-of-pocket hospital costs.
More than two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key reason, according to the Attorney General's Office. More than half of the collection items on credit reports are for medical debts.
Oregon passed a similar charity care law in 2019 to alleviate mounting medical care costs at hospitals.