California’s largest public hospital plans to start notifying 43,000 former patients Monday that they may be eligible for refunds or billing corrections, part of what advocates called a major legal settlement that will help force the hospital to fulfill its charity care obligations.
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, along with other units of county-owned Santa Clara Valley Healthcare, will also adopt procedures to ensure patients are informed of their eligibility for charity care, which nonprofit and public hospitals must provide.
“This is huge,” said Helen Tran, a senior attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty, which joined another California-based legal group, the Consumer Law Center, in a lawsuit against the hospital. “It’s so important that the hospital is stepping up to take corrective action. That’s something we haven’t seen many hospitals do.”
Filed in 2019 and settled in June, the lawsuit alleged that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center billed patients and sent them to collections for charges they should not have been required to pay. Emily Hepner, one of the plaintiffs, was a full-time student, raising two children alone,and uninsured in 2014 when she needed urgent surgery, according to the lawsuit. The hospital never followed up after telling her she might be eligible for charity care and, nearly a year later, she received a $34,884 bill. The hospital later sued her for that amount plus attorney fees.