Medicare New Rules for Equal Visitation Rights for All Hospital Patients

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) today proposed new rules for hospitals that participate in the government healthcare programs that protect the patients’ right to choose their own visitors during an inpatient hospital stay, including visitors who are same-sex domestic partners. These rules implement President Obama’s executive order issued in April 2010 that “participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

The proposed rules, which will be an update to the current Conditions of Participation (CoPs), would require that every hospital have written policies and procedures that detail patients’ visitation rights, including the right of the patient to choose his or her visitors and his or her representative for critical health care decisions.

Hospitals often bar visitors who are not related to a patient by blood or marriage. Gay activists say that many also do not respect same-sex couples’ efforts to designate a partner to make medical decisions for them if they are seriously ill or injured.

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Read: Gay and Lesbian Often Discriminated in Healthcare

The new rules will not apply only to same-sex unions. They also will affect widows and widowers who have been unable to receive visits from a friend or companion. And they would allow members of some religious orders to designate someone other than a family member to make medical decisions.

"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Today's proposed rules would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing-whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient's family."

"This proposed rule is an important step forward in the rights of all Americans to expect equal rights and privileges from the health care system, regardless of their personal and familial situations," said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS acting administrator. "In the environment of inclusion that this rule promotes, patients and providers can expect improved patient experiences of care."

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