Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidance to support enforcement of rules that protect hospital patients’ right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a same-sex domestic partner. These rules, finalized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in November, apply to all hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The guidance also supports enforcement of 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.
"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," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "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.”
CMS today sent a letter to State Survey Agencies (SSAs), which conduct on-site inspections of hospitals on behalf of CMS. The letter highlights the equal visitation and representation rights requirements and directs SSAs to be aware of the guidance when evaluating hospitals' compliance with Conditions of Participation, which are the health and safety standards all Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and critical access hospitals must meet.
In other news of interest to the LGBT community, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), another agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, also announced yesterday a $248,000 grant to the Fenway Institute to create a National Training and Technical Assistance Center to help community health centers improve the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. “This award is an important step in HHS’ continuing effort to provide health care services to all people recognizing that different groups of people may have distinctive health care needs,” said Secretary Sebelius.