A new law offering free or discounted hospital care in Washington is now effective.

According to Attorney General Bob Ferguson , 4 million Washingtonians will qualify for free or discounted care at hospitals across Washington as a result of legislation.

Beginning as of July 1, approximately half of all Washingtonians will be eligible for the free or reduced-cost care at hospitals that represent approximately 80 percent of the licensed beds in the state.

Ferguson worked with legislators on HB 1616 to strengthen Washington’s charity care law. 

The legislation expands charity care eligibility to more than 1 million Washingtonians, and guarantees free hospital care to an additional million Washingtonians who are currently eligible for discounted care.

“This is a landmark achievement for affordable health care,” Ferguson said. “Too many Washingtonians are just one hospital bill away from financial crisis. Our new law moves us away from a system where a single mom working two minimum wage jobs didn’t qualify for any help with her hospital bills, to something that offers help to about half the people in Washington. It’s the right thing to do. Make sure you know what kind of assistance you qualify for, and if you aren’t getting it, contact my office.”

“No Washingtonian should be bankrupted by a trip to the emergency room,” Rep. Simmons said. “I am proud to have worked with the Attorney General to update and standardize Washington’s charity care law. Four million Washingtonians will now be eligible for free or reduced out-of-pocket hospital costs making our healthcare system fairer and more equitable.”

The legislation establishes two tiers of financial assistance — one for large health care systems and another for smaller, independent hospitals. 

“The new law gives Washington the strongest protections in the country for out-of-pocket hospital costs.”

Nationwide, about two-thirds of individuals who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key contributor, and more than half of collection items on credit reports are for medical debts.

“For example, according to 2019 data from the Federal Reserve, the median bank account balance for Black households is about $1,500, less than one-fifth the median balance for white households of $8,200. The median account balance for Latino households is about $2,000. One in five individuals in majority nonwhite zip codes have at least one medical debt in collections on their credit report.”