Health and Healthcare
Guide to Laws about Health and Healthcare in California
Here are laws about health and healthcare specific to California. For nationwide or federal laws related to health and healthcare (which also apply to CA of course), see our Guide to Health and Healthcare in the U.S.
1. Health insurance
Do I have a right to health insurance?
As long as you are not already covered by your employer, you have a right to purchase health insurance from CoveredCA.com (enabled by the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare”). You have this right even if you have a preexisting condition.1Affordable Care Act
Am I required to have health insurance?
Yes. Although the federal government repealed the “individual mandate,” California has now passed its own requirement for residents to maintain health insurance. The penalty for failing to have health insurance is at least $695 per year.2SB 78 (2019)
Can I get free or reduced cost health insurance?
If you qualify based on your income (generally less than $75K per year for an individual, or $150K for a family of 4) and certain other factors, you may receive “subsidies” to help pay for your health insurance premiums. See CoveredCA.com for more.
Also if your income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty line (generally about $15K or less per year for an individual), you may be eligible for free or very low cost health insurance (called Medicaid, aka “MediCal” in California).
If you are legally determined as permanently disabled, or you are at least 65 years old, you likely qualify for low cost health insurance, called Medicare.
What about undocumented immigrants?
As of July 2019, California law allows undocumented persons to enroll in Medi-Cal (Medicaid) through age 25, so long as they meet the same requirements as those who have legal status. See our Guide to Laws for Immigrants in California.
Is my health insurance required to cover certain things?
Yes. See our Guide to Healthcare in the U.S. for more.
2. Medical records
Do my health care providers or other professionals have the right to share my medical information with others without my permission?
Generally, no. See our Guide to Healthcare in the U.S. for more.
Do I have the right to obtain my medical records?
Yes. See our Guide to Healthcare in the U.S. for more.
Do I have the right to correct mistakes in my records?
Not exactly. See our Guide to Healthcare in the U.S. for more.
3. Danger to Oneself or Others
What is a ‘5150’? What can be done about someone who is mentally unstable and is a danger to him/herself or other people?
You may have heard of a “5150” psychiatric hold. This is the law that allows law enforcement to take a person into custody and deliver them to a mental health hospital or other facility for the purpose of determining whether the person is likely to be a danger to himself or others. Such a person can be held against their will for up to 72 hours. If found to be at risk of doing harm, they can be detained for up to 14 days (a “5250” hold).3California Welfare and Institutions Code Sec 5150; 5250
Then there is a court hearing to determine whether the person should continue to be held indefinitely.
Any person with a reasonable belief that another person may hurt or kill themself or someone else may call 911 and request the police to do a 5150 procedure.
4. Assisted Suicide/ Medical Aid in Dying
Are doctors allowed to help a terminally ill person die in California?
Yes (updated June 2018 – see below). In California you have the right to request medical assistance to end your life when you are suffering from a terminal illness with less than 6 months to live. The procedure is sometimes referred to as “death with dignity” or “physician assisted death” or even “physician assisted suicide.” The law is called the End of Life Option Act.
UPDATE JUNE 15 2018: In May, a court suspended the End of Life Option Act, ruling that the law was unconstitutional. But on June 15, an appeals court reinstated the law, while it considers whether to uphold or reverse the lower court’s ruling. It will likely take quite some time to get a final resolution of the case.
5. Decisions About Healthcare
If someone falls into a vegetative state or is incapacitated in some way, who makes decisions about their healthcare?
If a person has properly created an Advance Health Care Directive which designates someone to make end-of-life and other health care decisions on their behalf (a healthcare “surrogate”), then the designated person is entitled to make those decisions.
If there is no Advance Health Care Directive, a person’s spouse is presumed to be the healthcare surrogate and has authority to make decisions on their behalf.4In re the matter of Juan Fernando Romero, LA County Superior Court 2018
If the person does not have a spouse, the other members of the family would be presumed to have the decision making authority.
These rules are based on the Health Care Decisions Law. For more on Advance Health Care Directives, see our Guide to Estate Planning.
Are students allowed to claim exemptions from vaccination requirements?
Also, public health officials may review any doctor who grants more than 5 medical exemptions in a calendar year. The state may revoke any exemptions it deems fraudulent or medically inaccurate.6Senate Bill 276 (2019)
6. Prescription Drugs
Are there any restrictions on doctors giving out prescription medications?
Yes. Before initially prescribing (and every 4 months thereafter) narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicoden, etc., and steroids, sleep aids, and psychiatric medication, doctors and nurses must now check an electronic database for signs of drug abuse.7SB 482
7. Cannabis & CBD
Is pot legal in California for medical and/or recreational purposes?
Yes. See our Guide to Marijuana Law for more.
Is CBD legal in California?
See our guide to CBD Laws in California.
What are my rights if I get injured?
See our Guide to Laws about Injuries.
9. Reproductive Health
What are the laws about reproductive health and pregnancy?
10. Handling Food & Food Safety
What are the requirements for food safety in California?
The California Retail Food Code establishes uniform health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities (such as restaurants). These are regulated by the State Department of Public Health and enforced by local health departments and agencies.
A food handler must obtain a food handler card from a specified training provider after completing a food handler training course and examination that covers specified topics, including foodborne illness and food contamination.
Food handlers who are employed by certain facilities, including public and private school cafeterias, and organized camps, are no longer exempt from these requirements.
Also, food servers or preparers are no longer allowed to use latex gloves. This is because some people are allergic to latex.
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