OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following reports that hospitals are failing to fulfill their obligations under state law to provide free or reduced-price healthcare to qualifying patients. Attorney General Bonta also sent letters to hospitals operating in California warning them that they must provide written notice to patients – in their native language – of the availability of “charity care” and how to apply. Californians who believe a hospital is violating the state’s charity care law can file a complaint with the California Department of Public Health here.
“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,” said Attorney General Bonta. “No family should ever have to think twice about getting their loved one’s necessary medical care because they’re afraid of high medical costs. Hospitals have a responsibility to inform Californians about their charity care options.”
The California Department of Justice has received complaints, particularly from rural and farm-working communities across the state, that hospitals are not providing charity care policy notices in a language that patients understand as required by state law. According to a 2021 survey from Gallup and West Health, around one-third of Americans have skipped medical treatment for a health problem because of the high cost of care. As patients continue to face high out-of-pocket costs, they have the right to know that charity care programs exist to help families avoid financial catastrophe.
In addition to letters sent to hospitals operating in California, Attorney General Bonta today issued a consumer alert in English, Spanish, Chinese (Traditional), Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Hindi/Punjabi informing Californians of their rights to free or reduced-price medical care :
Eligibility Requirements for Charity Care
- Uninsured patients: California law requires hospitals to provide free or discounted care to uninsured patients who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level.
- Insured patients: Californians with health insurance may qualify for discounts if they: (1) earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level, and (2) have faced out-of-pocket medical expenses in the preceding 12 months that exceed 10% of their income .
- Immigration status: Californians’ immigration status does not impact their eligibility for charity care. Hospitals may request proof of their financial situation — such as pay stubs or documentation from a local social services agency — but only to assess financial eligibility.
Know Your Rights
- Californians have the right to request payment assistance even if they have health insurance or are undocumented.
- Californians have the right to receive information about charity care and an application for charity care in their native language.
- Californians have the right to receive a written estimate of the out-of-pocket cost they will be expected to pay if they are uninsured.
- Californians have the right to negotiate an extended payment plan to pay for their treatment if they qualify for charity care.
- Californians have the right to timely notification and a plain summary of their rights to charity care.