Medicare to Enforce Visitation Rights for Gay Couples

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While it was Obama who issued a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations protecting hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples almost a year ago, the new policy didn’t go into effect until this past January. Now, Medicare is playing a larger role in enforcing this policy throughout the United States. [TR]

See what the Department of Health and Human Services has to say after the jump…

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidance to support enforcement of rules that protect hospital patients’ right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a same-sex domestic partner. These rules, finalized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in November, apply to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The guidance also supports enforcement of the right of patients to designate the person of their choice, including a same-sex partner, to make medical decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated.

The rules updated the Conditions of Participation (CoPs), which are the health and safety standards all Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and critical access hospitals must meet, and apply to all patients of those hospitals even if they are not on Medicare or Medicaid. Among other things, the CoPs require hospitals to explain to all patients their right to choose who may visit them during their inpatient stay, regardless of whether the visitor is a family member, a spouse, a domestic partner (including a same-sex domestic partner), or another type of visitor, as well as their right to withdraw such consent to visitation at any time.

Existing CoPs also protect the rights of hospital patients to have representatives who can act on their behalf. HHS has updated the guidance for these rules to emphasize that hospitals should give deference to patients’ wishes concerning their representatives, whether expressed in writing, orally, or through other evidence, unless prohibited by state law. The guidance issued today is intended to make it easier for family members, including a same-sex domestic partner, to make informed care decisions for loved ones who have become incapacitated.

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