Federal regulations designed to protect the hospital visitation and decision making rights of patients and their families, with a particular focus on same-sex partners, came into effect this week.
The new regulations apply to all hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare programs. As highlighted at the time, this does not create a new right to access but reinforces the current law that, if a same-sex spouse has been granted power of attorney or has been designated by the patient as having visitor rights, such rights must be respected or the hospital may face cuts in their funding.
- 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 other type of visitor, as well as their right to withdraw such consent to visitation at any time.
- Require hospitals have written policies and procedures detailing patients’ visitation rights, as well as the circumstances under which the hospitals may restrict patient access to visitors based on reasonable clinical needs.
- Specify that all visitors chosen by the patient must be able to enjoy “full and equal” visitation privileges consistent with the wishes of the patient.
- Update 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 are applicable to all patients of those hospitals regardless of payer source.
The president was apparently moved by the story of Janice Langbehn who was refused access to partner Lisa Pond as she lay dying in a Miami hospital despite having the proper legal documents in place. With this in mind President Obama duly directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations protecting hospital visitation rights.
While these protections are limited in scope to work within the purview of the Defense of Marriage Act and do not patch all the holes in coverage that same-sex partners face, the changes will be welcomed by same-sex couples who, like Janice Langbehn and her family, faced being (illegally) prevented from seeing their ill spouse or partner.
It is critical to stress, though, that the regulations will only benefit same-sex couples if they have completed their advanced health care directives and taken other appropriate steps to declare their wishes.
For more information in how you can protect your visitation rights, please click here.