Legislature Tackles Harms of Medical Debt

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Olympia, WA – State Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) and Senator David Frockt (D-Seattle) have introduced companion bills – House Bill 1531 and Senate Bill 5530, respectively – to protect Washingtonians from mounting medical bills by regulating medical debt collection practices.

“Medical debt can send someone into a spiral of debt they had no idea they were accumulating,” said Representative Jinkins. “Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. When people can't pay for medical services, they're forced to make drastic, often harmful, decisions, like increasing their credit card debt or cutting back on needed doctor visits and prescriptions. My hope is that we can alleviate this burden that so many face."

On Wednesday, February 6, 2019 the Washington State House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill. The bill proposes several solutions to address the problem of mounting medical debt and the practices used to collect outstanding medical debt. Among its elements, the bill places restrictions on the collection of pre-judgment interest, requires debt collectors to provide people with more information about their bill and information about charity care when attempting to collect on an outstanding debt, prohibits bench warrants for medical debt, reduces the interest rate on judgments stemming from medical debt, and places restrictions on wage and bank account garnishments.

"Nearly every Washingtonian has an experience with medical bills that aren't transparent or difficult to understand," Senator Frockt said. "People shouldn't become homeless, jobless, or bankrupt as a result of seeking critical medical care. We need to address this growing problem."

Medical debt is a widespread and growing problem, both in Washington State and throughout the nation. Approximately nine percent of Washingtonians have outstanding medical debt, totaling more than $700 million. Medical services often arise out of unexpected, unplanned events — such as a car accident or sudden illness. For many, critical medical care leads to extraordinary medical bills, devastating a household’s financial security and stability.

“Medical expenses drive millions of people in the United States into poverty,” said Antonio Ginatta, policy director at Columbia Legal Services. “HB 1531 and SB 5530 provide fair relief to people burdened by sudden and debilitating medical debt.”

For more information, contact:
Jay Doran, Policy & Field Campaign Manager, Statewide Poverty Action Network
206.694.6796, jay@povertyaction.org

Antonio Ginatta, Policy Director, Columbia Legal Services
360.943.6260, antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org