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'Surprise' medical expenses would be banned under new Washington bill

A LaCenter mother told lawmakers her story of a $112,000 hospital bill in hopes they would end a practice called "surprise billing."

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A LaCenter, Wash. mother hopes her $112,000 medical bill will help get a new state law passed.

When Jaime Hansen’s 15-year-old son Ryan wasn’t feeling well, the insurance company’s nurse told her to take him to the doctor.

The doctor referred him to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., but when doctors there determined Ryan had an infection near his heart, they said he needed to be transferred to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore.

“I informed them Randall was not in our network. They assured me because it was an emergency admit it would be covered,” Hansen told the House of Representatives during a legislative hearing in Olympia on Wednesday.

After her son made a full recovery Hansen got a bill for $112,000.

Her insurer said they’d cover about $16,000 for the emergency services, but she would be on the hook for $96,000, because the specialists and the six-day hospital stay was not covered by her network.

"What I loved was the notice I got that said I could make payment arrangements or I could make three monthly installments, which would have been 30-something thousand dollars,” said Hansen.

She was able to negotiate her bill down to $24,000.

She complained to the state's Office of the Insurance Commissioner and was in Olympia to back a bill to prohibit surprise out-of-network charges for patients.

“This legislation gets the consumer out of the equation,” said Mike Kreidler, Washington state insurance commissioner, a Democrat.

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Kreidler said his office gets complaints from dozens of patients over surprise charges every year.

In Hansen’s case, Kreidler notes she did everything right, and what the provider and insurance company did is not illegal.

For several years Kreidler has backed legislation to make that practice against the law.

Kreidler is optimistic the bill will pass this session.

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While lobbyists for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies raised concerns about elements of the bill, they told lawmakers they supported the move to remove the patients from the out-of-network issue.

Patients who have concerns about insurance bills can call the State Insurance Commissioner's hotline at 1-800-562-6900.