Monday, July 05, 2010

Medicare Proposes New Rules to Ensure Equal Visitation Rights for All Hospital Patients Patients to Designate Their Own Visitors, Including Domestic Partners

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on June 23 proposed new rules for hospitals that would protect patients' rights to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including visitors who are same-sex domestic partners.

The new proposed rules implement an April 15, 2010, Presidential memorandum, in which the President tasked HHS with developing proposed standards for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals (including critical access hospitals) that would require them to preserve the rights of all patients to choose who may visit them when they are inpatients of a facility.

The proposed rules would require every hospital to have written policies and procedures detailing patients' visitation rights, as well as instances when the hospital may restrict patient access to visitors based on reasonable clinical needs.

A key provision of the proposed rules specifies that visitors chosen by the patient (or his or her representative) must be able to enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those for immediate family members.

"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," said HHS 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."

The proposed rules would update the Conditions of Participation, which are minimum health and safety standards all Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and critical access hospitals must meet.

Specifically, the proposed rules would add new requirements for hospitals and critical access 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, or a domestic partner (including a same-sex domestic partner), as well as the right to withdraw such consent at any time.

"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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