HHS Protects Same-Sex Partners' Rights in Hospitals

John Commins, September 12, 2011

The federal government this week announced new guidelines to protect hospital patients’ right to choose visitors, including same-sex domestic partners.

The rules were finalized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last fall and apply to hospitals that take Medicare and Medicaid payments. The guidelines also support 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.

 “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 healthcare system,” CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, MD, says in a media release. “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.”

CMS this week sent a letter to State Survey Agencies, which conduct on-site inspections of hospitals on behalf of CMS, highlighting the equal visitation and representation rights requirements and directing SSAs to be aware of the guidance when evaluating hospitals' compliance.

Tara L. Borelli, an attorney with Lambda Legal, says the new rules and guidance are “a step in the right direction, but we need to make sure that they are consistently followed. Lambda Legal knows from its work, which has included representing same-sex life partners who were treated as mere strangers by emergency room personnel, that there is still an enormous education job ahead about the new rules,” Borelli told HealthLeaders Media.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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