San Diego Residents File Class-Action Lawsuit Against County Over Alleged Illegal Denial of Medical Care
A group of five San Diego County residents on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court over allegations that the county illegally denied them medical care because their monthly incomes exceeded the county eligibility level for indigent care, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. According to Juanita Brooks, an attorney for the plaintiffs, state law requires counties to provide additional options for uninsured residents whose incomes exceed eligibility levels for indigent care.
In San Diego County, low-income uninsured residents whose monthly incomes exceed $802 can receive coverage for emergency care under County Medical Services. The program serves 22,000 county residents annually at a cost of more than $60 million, according to Vicki Mizel, assistant deputy director of the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.
However, the program does not have a system under which county residents can pay for part of the cost of medical care and receive coverage for the remainder, according to Brooks. As a result, she said, the plaintiffs could not afford to obtain medical care -- such as regular follow-up or preventive services -- other than emergency care. The lawsuit also argues that the county should consider a resident's ability to afford medical care, in addition to monthly income, to determine whether they qualify for indigent care.
The lawsuit seeks coverage of medical care for the plaintiffs and an order to prevent the denial of such coverage to other county residents in similar cases. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages but requests reimbursement for medical costs paid by the plaintiffs.
San Diego County Counsel John Sansone said, based on the arguments in the lawsuit, that the county would have to provide "universal health care to anybody who simply cannot afford it, and that is not what state law requires." He said, "They would never be able to point to anything in any state law, they would never be able to point to anything in any court ruling that would require that to be done."
However, Katie Murphy, an attorney with the Western Center for Law and Poverty -- which also represents the plaintiffs - said, "Anybody that can qualify for any other type of care cannot get this care." According to the Union-Tribune, the center won a similar case in Sacramento County in 1999 (Vigil, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/25).
KPBS' "KPBS News" on Monday reported on the lawsuit. The segment includes comments from Murphy (Goldberg, "KPBS News," KPBS, 1/24). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.