HHS Strengthens Hospital Visitation And Medical Directives Rules

Jim Burroway

September 7th, 2011

The Department of Health and Human Services unveiled new guidance this morning to ensure compliance to new HHS policies designed to enhance hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid sent letters to states outlining additional enforcement mechanisms for the new policies announced last year which require that medical facilities accepting Medicare or Medicaid funds allow patients to designate their own visitors during hospital stays and recognize advance directives designating a same-sex partner for making emergency medical decisions. The letter to state auditing agencies outlines guidance on ensuring compliance with the new policies, and marks the last step in implementing the policy change.

The policy change announced last year affected rules and regulations for safety and quality of health care that hospitals must meet before qualifying to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds. Because those rules apply to the hospital’s operating procedures as a whole, the policy change applies to all hospital patients, not just those whose care is paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.

In announcing the new guidance for enforcing the rules, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelious said, “Couples take a vow to be with each other in sickness and in health and it is unacceptable that, in the past, some same-sex partners were denied the right to visit their loved ones in times of need. We are releasing guidance for enforcing new rules that give all patients, including those with same-sex partners, the right to choose who can visit them in the hospital as well as enhancing existing guidance regarding the right to choose who will help make medical decisions on their behalf.”


September 7th, 2011

I can hear Bill Donohue snivelling, and I’m on the left coast.

I suppose that Catholic hospitals will now stop accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Jim Burroway

September 7th, 2011

Actually, we’ve had very good treatment from the local Catholic hospitals here in Tucson, with no problems whatsoever with medical decisions and visitations. I’m happy to say that the staff at St. Mary’s have always been respectful.


September 7th, 2011

Unfortunately, this is only a directive and can be changed at any time. Not that this Congress will give it the force of law.


September 8th, 2011

So does this mean that hospitals are refusing to comply with advance directives? I though that hospitals were legally required to abide by the AD, is that incorrect? And what options does a patient have if their advance directive is ignored (beside loudly threatening to sue)?

My partner and I were very well treated at a Catholic hospital in a fairly liberal city, but all the nurses seemed very confused about why I had multiple copies of my advance directive, and what exactly they should do with that paperwork. While I was happy that hospital workers were kind to use, it made me nervous that they respected my partner out of kindness rather than out of legal responsibility.

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