Tens of thousands of people treated at Santa Clara County-owned hospitals may now qualify to have their medical debt erased.
This comes in the wake of a June lawsuit settlement that accused Santa Clara Valley Healthcare of charging needy patients for care they should have received for free.
The county said yesterday it has begun notifying patients who should have been eligible for “charity care,” reduced-cost or free medical services for low-income people. Those who apply in the next several weeks could see their outstanding hospital bills voided, have court judgements corrected and even receive refund checks in the mail.
The settlement is a major win for patient advocates like Helen Tran, a senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty who worked on the case.
“It sends a really important message to hospitals statewide—that they should take their charity care obligations seriously,” she told San José Spotlight. “The county has done so.”
All acute care hospitals in California must offer charity care to anyone uninsured, and many people with insurance, who earn below a certain threshold—currently 400% of the federal poverty level. That’s about $58,000 annually for an individual and $120,000 for a family of four. Patients must also be told about charity care options in their native language.