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This week, the Legislature took up HB 2447, which would prohibit balance billing for out-of-network care in an emergency setting [“Insurance commissioner targets ER’s ‘surprise’ medical bills,” Local News, Jan. 19]. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who requested the legislation, testified that the proposal would protect patients from unexpected medical bills.

What many people don’t know is that there is a state law, signed by former Gov. Gary Locke in 1997, protecting consumers from surprise bills in these situations. The law, what was then referred to as the “prudent layperson” standard, clearly states that if a consumer goes to an emergency room, his or her care must be covered by the insurer.

We call on the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to enforce the current law that protects consumers from surprise medical bills. The proposed legislation is not needed and could do more harm than good. It would undermine incentives for physicians and insurers to engage in contracting negotiations, resulting in more out-of-network situations for patients across the state.

If the prudent-layperson standard were enforced, consumers would already have peace of mind knowing they would be treated without unanticipated out-of-pocket expenses when they visit a hospital’s emergency department.

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As a physician community, we want a health-care system that ensures patients get the care they need when they need it. HB 2447 is not the answer.

Dr. Ray Hsiao, Seattle, president of the Washington State Medical Association