SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Approximately 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare will soon receive notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. These corrective actions from the County of Santa Clara complement the significant enhancements that the County’s Board of Supervisors has made in recent years to the County’s hospital charity care and discount payment program, the Healthcare Access Program (HAP).
The increased patient outreach efforts are part of the settlement of a lawsuit that alleged the County did not adequately inform three former patients about its previous hospital charity care and discount payment policies after they incurred bills ranging from $8,000 to $35,000 between 2013 and 2017 and the bills were sent to collections. At the time of their hospitalization, one petitioner was uninsured, a single mother of two children, and a full-time student; another was uninsured and spoke primarily Spanish; and the third was unemployed and unhoused.
“Our goal in this lawsuit was to have better policies and processes in place at the hospital to inform patients of their right to charity care and to give patients who did not know about these programs in the past the chance to apply for discounts to their bills now,” said Fred Schwinn, Attorney with the Consumer Law Center, Inc.
The County’s patient notices include detailed information about how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments. The notices and posters advertising the program at the hospital are available in seven non-English languages. Written information about charity care and discount payments is given to patients at the time of service or mailed to patients within a few days after discharge. The County will also continue to assist patients with financial assistance applications and applications for government-sponsored health coverage such as Medi-Cal. Additionally, patients may apply for financial assistance at any time during the course of the collections process.
“Santa Clara Valley Healthcare prides itself on delivering quality healthcare for individuals and communities that face significant socioeconomic hurdles to receiving this basic benefit,” said Paul E. Lorenz, Chief Executive Officer for Santa Clara Valley Healthcare. “These newly implemented outreach efforts, combined with our current programs, multilingual approaches, and recent state-initiated efforts, will allow us to better serve those most in need.”
As part of settling this lawsuit, the County will provide an opportunity for patients whose bills were sent to collections between October 28, 2018, and December 31, 2021, to have their bills re-reviewed for full or partial discounts. Individuals who receive this notice will have 65 days to complete and return a form indicating their interest to apply. Individuals will then have an additional 150 days to complete their application by submitting documents to verify their information. Depending on when patients’ bills were sent to collections, they may qualify for different financial assistance programs. Patients may be eligible for refunds for amounts they overpaid and to have court judgments corrected.
“Medical debt, particularly hospital debt, burdens many Californians and forces them to forgo medically necessary care and other life necessities. We hope this lawsuit will give thousands of Santa Clara residents some financial relief,” said Helen Tran, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are impressed the County has committed to the enormous task of reconsidering past bills that may have qualified for free care or some level of discount.”
In California, all licensed acute care hospitals must provide financial assistance to uninsured patients and patients who have high medical costs. The County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors has long been committed to going above and beyond these requirements. In April 2020, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of the Healthcare Access Program (HAP), which provides a full discount to eligible hospital patients whose yearly household income is at or below 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), as well as options for significantly discounted payments for patients whose income is between 401% and 650% of the FPL, making it one of the most generous and innovative hospital charity care and discount payment programs in the United States. For more information about the HAP, please visit this webpage.
Patients who receive a notice about this settlement may contact Santa Clara Valley Healthcare at (408) 494-7850 for assistance. Patients may also contact the Health Consumer Alliance at (888) 804-3536 to receive free assistance about how to qualify for a refund.
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Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.
Located in downtown San Jose, California, Consumer Law Center, Inc., devotes its entire practice to protecting the rights of California consumers. CLC’s practice is exclusively limited to representing individuals in debt collection lawsuits and consumer class action cases against debt buyers and debt collectors. For more information, visit https://www.sjconsumerlaw.com/ and https://debt-defenders.com/.
About Santa Clara Valley Healthcare
Santa Clara Valley Healthcare (SCVH), California’s second-largest County-owned health and hospital system, is comprised of three acute care hospitals, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital, and St. Louise Regional Hospital, along with a network of primary and specialty clinics. SCVH emphasizes quality care, research, teaching, innovation, and most importantly, a focus on coordinated, compassionate, and patient-centered care to every patient. Our mission is to provide high-quality, accessible healthcare and excellent service to everyone in Santa Clara County, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ability to pay.