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King County Councilmembers urge Inslee to issue executive order to cover COVID-19 medical bills for uninsured or underinsured patients

Five King County Councilmembers – Girmay Zahilay, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Rod Dembowski, Dave Upthegrove, and Joe McDermott – sent a letter to Gov. Inslee today urging him to issue an executive order to guarantee Washington State will pay for any COVID-19 related medical bills for underinsured or uninsured Washingtonians who do not receive federal assistance from the CARES Act.

In pushing for the order, the councilmembers said they are trying to ensure that uninsured or underinsured COVID-19 patients do not face possible medical bankruptcy for receiving treatment related to the virus.

Even before the pandemic, 500,000 people in our state lacked health insurance coverage, and 40 percent of people were covered under private plans. The Washington Office of Financial Management is already reporting an additional 328,000 newly unemployed losing their healthcare, and minorities are more likely not to have healthcare. The OFM noted King County is seeing a nearly 100 percent increase of people losing their healthcare,” wrote the councilmembers.

A 2019 study found that 66.5 percent of all bankruptcies nationally were tied to medical issues. The research also found that an estimated 530,000 families file for bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills.

The allocation of federal dollars covering COVID-19 treatment only extends to the uninsured. The executive order proposed by the councilmembers would ensure that underinsured patients have their COVID-19 related medical bills covered as well.

Specifically, the councilmembers called on the governor to develop a mechanism to enforce the no balance billing protection of the CARES Act and effectively communicate the availability of free testing and treatment to Washington residents, regardless of their coverage status.

The letter also maintains that business owners will benefit financially from the executive order due to increased confidence in the public health system’s ability to keep up with demand from patients as the pandemic continues.

While you have committed to free testing, we feel this action does not go far enough to protect businesses and the working people of Washington financially over the long-term…As reopening of business activity begins, business owners and workers returning to work need the health and safety security of knowing all people in Washington can seek medical attention for COVID-19.”

This is a developing story and will be updated with subsequent reporting

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