Does President Obama’s Healthcare Law Mean Hospitals Have To Treat Me?

November 12, 2010

WASHINGTON - MAY 13:  US President Barack Obam...
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Are hospitals obligated to treat you?

One of the main arguments made by supporters of President Obama’s health care plan was that people were being refused medical treatment because of their inability to pay. A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system was needed because people who lacked health insurance were not receiving proper medical care.

So, now that healthcare reform has passed, will everyone have access to all the services they need from hospitals, doctors and other medical professionals?

It’s too early to tell exactly how President Obama’s new health care law will affect those seeking medical treatments. First of all, very few of the provisions of the legislation have been implemented, and there is still considerable opposition to the law. In fact, efforts will surely be made to defund or repeal many of its programs altogether.

With this uncertainty, we should look at whether current healthcare laws obligate hospitals and doctors to treat those in need of care.

The 1986 Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires all hospitals to examine and stabilize anyone seeking emergency care regardless of their ability to pay.

In addition, non-profit hospitals are required to provide “community benefits” (including the treatment of poor people) as a condition of the tax-exempt status. “Participating Hospitals”, which are hospitals that accept any government funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, are also obligated to treat emergencies and active labor regardless of the patient’s insurance status or income level.

Private hospitals (“for profit” hospitals which do not receive government grants) are not required to treat all patients. They are obligated by EMTALA to examine and stabilize emergency patients, but are then allowed to transfer them to a public facility.

EMTALA’s emergency care provisions also cover individual physicians, but beyond that, the “No Duty Rule” largely governs their discretion in accepting or rejecting patients. If a doctor has not established a relationship with a patient, he is not obligated to provide non-emergency treatment to him or her.

If a “Duty Bound” relationship has been established (through the doctor either seeing the patient or having scheduled an appointment to see the patient), the doctor must continue to provide care until the relationship is ended by mutual consent.

Obama’s new health care plan is an attempt to address the difficult issue of universal access to quality medical care. Whether the new health care law is successful remains to be seen.

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