- Hospitals in California are failing to notify patients that they are eligible for financial assistance, the state attorney general alleged in a statement this week, though no hospitals were identified for failing to comply.
- California Attorney General Rob Bonta sent letters to all hospitals in the state warning them that failure to provide notices alerting patients about free or reduced-cost care is in violation of state law.
- The California Hospital Association said it is not aware of widespread compliance issues and it does not have any information on the number of complaints or hospitals involved.
The warning from California's top law enforcement agent comes as patients continue to face high healthcare costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hospitalized hundreds of thousands in the U.S.
Patients have the right to know that charity care programs exist to help them avoid financial catastrophe, Bonta said.
“When hospitals fail to inform patients of the availability of free or reduced-cost medical care, they force patients and their families to make impossible choices and confront financial hardship,” Bonta said.
The letter comes after Bonta's office received complaints from rural and farm-working communities across the state that hospitals were not providing notices in a language patients understand, according to a letter dated Tuesday.
Under state law, California requires hospitals to provide free or discounted care to uninsured patients who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level, which is $111,000 for a family of four and $54,360 for an individual.
Insured patients may qualify for financial help if they earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level and have out-of-pocket medical bills in the prior 12 months that exceed 10% of their income.
Immigration status does not factor into a patient's eligibility for charity care, though hospitals may request documents about their income.
Hospitals also are required to post notices in the language a patient understands.