INDIGENT CARE: Court Rules Against Sacramento County
California counties must continue to provide essential medical care to residents who cannot afford to pay for it themselves, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. Writing the unanimous decision, Chief Justice Ronald George said counties are required by state law to "provide for the protection, care and assistance of all the needy and distressed people of this state, and to administer appropriate aid and services promptly and humanely." He did note that "state law does not require counties to provide the same quality of health care that recipients of private services receive." The court's ruling allows counties to determine the formula for providing basic assistance, but George said that the formula must account for an individual's financial ability to pay for all or part of essential services (Dolan, Los Angeles Times, 11/23). He added that counties must serve as "the health care provider of last resort." Sacramento County argued that since state law in the last decade had reduced local governments' obligations to their poorest residents, the law also allowed counties to cease treating the poor in clinics at county expense (Egelko, AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/23). Faced with tough economic times in 1992 and 1993, the county tried to limit free health care to those receiving general assistance, but a trial court blocked that measure (Los Angeles Times, 11/23). Richard Rothschild of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, who sued on behalf of low-income residents, said that it would have been disastrous had the county prevailed (AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/23). He added that "hundreds of thousands of people would have been denied health care," and the ruling "reaffirmed that there really is a health care safety net for poor people" (Los Angeles Times, 11/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.