Dear Patient…

This story’s a shocker – a sad, tragic shocker. Again, it’s from the Central Valley. Again, the money-maker in our health care system comes across as the bad guy.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton reports on a heinous billing mistake that sent the parents of a deceased 23-year-old Sacramento college student into a devastating emotional tailspin. You’ll have to read it to believe it.

Less than two weeks after their son was brutally beaten to death in his dorm room, the bill from UC Davis Medical Center arrived. Addressed “Dear Patient,” it was the sort of “Dear John” letter the hospital sends to indigent patients who go to the emergency room because they don’t have insurance.

Trouble is, the family had insurance – and had just lost their son.

When you read the story you’ll be horrified at the letter’s clinical, uncaring language – not to mention its message.

The dollar-amount of the bill raises questions as well. For a 5-minute (unsuccessful) attempt at resuscitating the young man, UCDavis charged $29,186.50.

Even if this was a mistake, patients get horrendously huge hospital bills every day in California. There were some protections that were put in place in 2006, that are detailed at our newest website,, that provides some step-by-step assistance to families in this predicament.

But the story makes you wonder about our health system in general. And when you think about what the UCDavis medical system represents – that it’s really part of California’s public universities – questions about accessibility, accountability and morals arise, too.

We need health reforms where families don’t face such financial pain, especially at the same time that they are going through such stress and grief that led them to the hospital in the first place.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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