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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Woman Got Sick at the Wrong Time

SUSANVILLE, Calif. (CN) - A Northern California county stuck an indigent woman with $41,000 in medical bills because her family income was $715 over the income cap when she had surgery, though it fell to zero soon after, she claims in court.

Margene Petterson says she woke up screaming in pain with a perforated bowel on Oct. 26, 2013 and was rushed to a hospital. She was airlifted to Reno, Nev., stabilized, and hospitalized for 33 days. Her unpaid medical expenses for October alone came to $41,255.

Petterson, who had not been able to afford health insurance, applied for assistance from Medi-Cal, the County Medical Services Program and Path2Health, a low-income health program that allowed counties to expand Medi-Cal coverage to certain uninsured, low-income adults.

Her husband was laid off in November 2013, bringing their income below the poverty level that month, and to zero in December.

The day Petterson got out of the hospital, Lassen WORKS, the county's community services program, denied her Medi-Cal coverage because she did not satisfy the age, disability or dependent caretaker eligibility categories.

On the same day, it denied her County Medical Services Program eligibility because her family's gross income in October was over the hard income cap, which is 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Petterson says she appealed Lassen WORKS' denial of her claim for October 2013, but still has not received a final ruling, and some of her bills have gone to collection.

She claims that Lassen County has an incomplete indigent health care program, with no standards for services for those who may have had income at the time of medically necessary health care, but do not now, and that its eligibility requirements fail to consider a person's ability to pay for all or part of her health care.

She seeks writ of mandate and $41,255. The defendants are Lassen County, and Lassen Works & Community Social Services and its Director Eric Nielson, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Petterson is represented by John Tan.

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