March 21, 2019
OLYMPIA, Wash. – A complaint to Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler by a Clark County couple about nearly $227,000 in surprise medical bills has resulted in the elimination of their debt.
Larry and Debbie Moehnke of Washougal, Wash., filed a complaint in December 2018. Debbie Moehnke suffered a heart attack during a medical visit in Vancouver. Doctors there determined she needed emergency care and transferred her to an out-of-network hospital – Oregon Health & Science University in Portland – where she underwent surgery.
She subsequently developed a leg infection that required her to spend additional time at the facility.
Her individual health insurance policy with Seattle-based Lifewise covered about half of the overall expenses. The Moehnkes were left owing $226,591 because many of the doctors treating her were outside of the Lifewise network of contracted medical providers.
Repeated inquiries by Kreidler’s Consumer Protection program to Lifewise, along with media attention (www.time.com) and intervention by a consumer advocacy group (www.dollarfor.org) in Oregon, resulted in elimination of the debt.
“This is a good result for a couple – who through no fault of their own – were faced with crushing debt owing to the fact that no law currently protects Washington consumers from surprise medical bills,” Kreidler said. “Unfortunately, it took repeated inquiries from my office and others to put a spotlight on the way charges were assessed. This case, and another from Clark County, clearly illustrate the need to pass legislation in Washington.”
Kreidler’s current proposal, Second Substitute House Bill 1065 (www.leg.wa.gov), would protect consumers from receiving a surprise medical bill when an insurer and provider or facility have failed to reach a contracting agreement. Hundreds of consumers have complained to his office about receiving surprise or “balance” bills from an out-of-network provider despite seeking treating from an in-network hospital or surgical facility. The extra charges range from hundreds of dollars to more than $200,000 in the Moehnkes’ case.
The Washington House of Representatives recently passed the bill with strong bipartisan support. The state Senate is considering further action.