HCHD accused of charging indigent for medical care

HOUSTON - The Harris County Hospital District has been slapped with a lawsuit claiming the agency denies coverage or charges fees to people who cannot afford to pay for medical care.

Under state law, the county is required to provide free or reduced cost medical or dental coverage for indigent residents.

The lawsuit was filed by LoneStar Legal Aide on behalf of five indigent patients.

"They charge people $8 for prescriptions, $3 for a doctor visit, $25 for emergency room visits, and for many people that's just money they don't have," said attorney Jeff Larsen.

Larsen and other attorneys working on the case said Thursday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act will not change the basis of the lawsuit.

Attorneys want a judge to issue an injunction against the Harris County Hospital District.

That action, attorneys for LegalAide claim, would prohibit the county from denying or reducing care to eligible residents who cannot or refuse to contribute to the cost of their own health care.

"If you are an indigent person living in Texas, you have a right to access health care. If the county is not providing it, they are in violation of the Texas Constitution and state law. It's that simple," said Martha Orozco of LoneStar Legal Aide.

Kulsoom Ali is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but she said that the benefits she receives through the county hospital district are a lifeline to a better quality of life. She goes to a county clinic at least twice a month and pays for services on a sliding scale based on her income.

"It means a lot to me," said Ali. "They take good care of me."

A spokesman with the Harris County Hospital District said the agency has not seen the lawsuit and will have no comment at this time.

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