HHS bolsters enforcement of equal visitation & representation rights in hospitals

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) today unveiled new guidance to bolster enforcement of rules finalized last November that allow hospital patients to designate their own visitors and medical decision-makers, including a same-sex partner and child of a same-sex partner.

Those rules, which were finalized last fall by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, apply to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The guidelines require hospitals to allow patients to designate visitors and medical decision-makers of their own choice, including same-sex partners, parents and children regardless of whether the relationship is formally recognized.

Hospitals must presume that those who say they are a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent or other family member is the designated medical decision-maker of the patient without requiring any documentation to prove the relationship.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights,  as part of the Task Force-convened New Beginning Initiative coalition, has been advocating for such changes.

In a press statement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today 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.

Read the entire HHS press release here.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey responded to today’s announcement:

Ensuring that the medical wishes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are respected is an example of the federal government recognizing the life of LGBT families. An emergency situation in a hospital is the last place where anyone should feel unsafe. While a positive step forward, it is critical we continue to work at all levels of government to make sure our families are fully recognized and treated fairly. 

Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said:

This announcement is another step toward equal rights for all Americans, and it is another step toward putting the patient at the center of our health care system. All patients should be afforded the same rights and privileges when they enter our health care system, and that includes the same opportunity to see their significant other.