Know your rights under the Balance Billing Protection Act
Beginning January 1, 2020, Washington state law protects you from ‘surprise billing’ or ‘balance billing’ if you receive emergency care or are treated at an in-network hospital or outpatient surgical facility.
What is ‘surprise billing’ or ‘balance billing’ and when does it happen?
Under your health plan, you’re responsible for certain cost-sharing amounts. This includes co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles. You may have additional costs or be responsible for the entire bill if you see a provider or go to a facility that is not in your plan’s provider network. Some providers and facilities have not signed a contract with your insurer. They are called ‘out-of network’ providers or facilities. They can bill you the difference between what your insurer pays and the amount the provider or facility bills. This is called ‘surprise billing’ or ‘balance billing.’
Insurers are required to tell you, via their websites or on request, which providers, hospitals and facilities are in their networks. And hospitals, surgical facilities and providers must tell you which provider networks they participate in on their website or on request.
When you CANNOT be balance billed: Emergency Services
The most you can be billed for emergency services is your plan’s in-network cost-sharing amount even if you receive services at an out-of-network hospital in Washington, Oregon or Idaho or from an out-of network provider that works at the hospital. The provider and facility cannot balance bill you for emergency services.
Certain services at an In-Network Hospital or Outpatient Surgical Facility
When you receive surgery, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, laboratory, or hospitalist services from an out-of-network provider while you are at an in-network hospital or outpatient surgical facility, the most you can be billed is your in-network cost-sharing amount. These providers cannot balance bill you.
In situations when balance billing is not allowed, the following protections also apply:
• Your insurer will pay out-of-network providers and facilities directly. You are only responsible for paying your in-network cost-sharing.
• Your insurer must:
~ Base your cost-sharing responsibility on what it would pay an in-network provider or facility in your area and show that amount in your explanation of benefits.
~ Count any amount you pay for emergency services or certain out-of-network services (described above) toward your deductible and out-of-pocket limit.
• Your provider, hospital, or facility must refund any amount you overpay within 30 business days.
• A provider, hospital, or outpatient surgical facility cannot ask you to limit or give up these rights.
If you receive services from an out-of-network provider, hospital or facility in any OTHER situation, you may still be balance billed, or you may be responsible for the entire bill. This law does not apply to all health plans. If you get your health insurance from your employer, the law might not protect you. Be sure to check your plan documents or contact your insurer for more information. If you believe you’ve been wrongly billed, file a complaint with the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner at or call 1-800-562-6900.