Governor Signs Chiu Bill to Increase Access to Medical Records for Low-Income Patients

New law will remove barriers for Californians applying for public benefit programs

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA—Legislation authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to make it easier for low-income people to access their medical records was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday. Assembly Bill 2520 will expand access to free medical records and ensure patients applying for public benefit programs receive completed eligibility forms from health care providers.

“Now more than ever, we need to make sure people are able to get the help they need,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “Accessing medical records can be a major barrier to applying for public benefits programs. I am grateful the Governor saw fit to remove that barrier by signing this bill.”

Medical records are often used to determine eligibility for public benefit programs, and gaining access to medical records can prove challenging for some low-income patients. While accessing medical records is free for patients applying for some public benefit programs such as Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), other public programs were not previously included. Previous law did not clearly prohibit medical providers from charging low-income patients to complete eligibility forms or refusing to complete them all together.

AB 2520 will require health care providers to complete forms without charging patients, if forms are needed to determine eligibility for public benefit programs. It will also expand access to free medical records for enrollees of the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, immigrants who are victims of crime, victims of domestic violence, and beneficiaries of government-funded housing subsidies or tenant-based housing assistance programs. 

The new law also clarifies that legal aid advocates can access medical records without cost in order to help clients access public benefit programs. Previously, some health facilities required legal aid attorneys to secure a “power of attorney” to access medical records on behalf of clients, which is an inappropriate and unnecessary designation for legal aid advocates who are simply assisting with a public benefits issue. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread, millions of Californians remain unemployed and rely on public assistance programs to get by. Making medical records more accessible will ensure people have access to the benefit programs they are entitled to.

The Western Center on Law and Poverty sponsored AB 2520.

“AB 2520 will increase access to public benefits programs by requiring doctors to fill out the medical forms needed for these programs and make it easier for patients to get their medical records,” said Linda Nguy, Policy Advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Access to these benefits is critical now during the economic downturn and for those facing homelessness as these medical forms could mean the difference between a safe place to stay or not.”

AB 2520 will take effect January 1, 2021.