Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued 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 and Medicaid Services (CMS) last year, 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.
The rules updated the Conditions of Participation (CoPs), which are the health and safety standards all Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and critical access hospitals must meet. The CoPs apply to all patients of those hospitals even if they are not Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries. Among other things, the CoPs require 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, a domestic partner (including a same-sex domestic partner), or another type of visitor, in addition to their right to withdraw such consent to visitation at any time.
Existing CoPs also protect the rights of hospital patients to have representatives who can act on their behalf. HHS has updated the guidance for these rules to emphasize that hospitals should give deference to patients' wishes concerning their representatives, whether expressed in writing, orally, or through other evidence, unless prohibited by state law. The guidance issued today is intended to make it easier for family members, including a same-sex domestic partner, to make informed care decisions for loved ones who have become incapacitated.
A letter issued today by CMS to State Survey Agencies (SSAs), which conduct onsite inspections of hospitals on behalf of CMS, highlights the equal visitation and representation rights requirements and directs SSAs to be aware of the guidance when evaluating hospitals' compliance with CoPs.
Also today, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced 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.