SACRAMENTO: County Fights for Right to Cut off Indigent Care
Attorneys for Sacramento County last week argued before the state Supreme Court that the county should be able to end or restrict medical care for the poor if the exigencies of the economy so dictate, the Sacramento Bee reports. Supervising deputy county counsel Michele Bach "argued that state laws passed during the last recession relieved the counties of their historical obligation to provide health care for those to are too poor to turn elsewhere." She said in 1992, "[T]he Legislature said need is not the defining criterion anymore ... harsh as that may be." Bach said that several proposals made by the county over the past seven years designed to mitigate the impact of future recessions -- including "scrapping all medical care to the indigent" or curtailing it only to those earning a certain level of income per month -- are in fact legal.
Where It Stands
The state Court of Appeals in Sacramento has ruled in the county's favor, but an injunction issued in 1992 by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter Mering "has blocked the county from doing anything drastic." Arguing against the county proposals, Richard Rothschild of the Western Center on Law and Poverty said Thursday that "no law allows the kinds of cutbacks for which Sacramento County is seeking authorization." He added that such a law would force all indigent persons seeking care into emergency rooms. Comments and questions by Justice Joyce Kennard and Chief Justice Ronald George reveal that they may agree with him. Both questioned the reasoning of the appeals court "and implied they disagreed with it." The Court is expected to rule within 90 days (Cooper/Griffith, 9/10).