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Understanding EMTALA

For many in Bozeman, the high cost of healthcare may drive them to avoid visiting the doctor altogether.  There are, however, many situations where immediate medical treatment cannot be avoided without facing a major risk of serious health complications or death. Experiencing an emergency still may not resolve the concern one may have about being able to afford his or her care, or worse yet, being refused service because of an inability to pay. Fortunately, the law offers uninsured patients some measure of protection in this scenario.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act is a federal law that prohibits hospital emergency departments from refusing service to patients because of a perceived inability to pay. Under EMTALA, ED staffs have a set of statutory obligations that they must fulfill to all patients. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, these include:

  •          Providing an appropriate medical screening.
  •          Stabilizing any medical ailments identified from the screening.
  •          Arranging a transfer to another facility if that hospital does not have the means to stabilize the patient.

The America College of Emergency Physicians outlines the transfer protocol required by EMTALA. To comply with them, the transferring physician must certify that the benefits of receiving immediate care are greater than the risks associated with the transfer. Those benefits and risks must then be explained to the patient, who must then make a formal transfer request. All the while, the transferring hospital must continue to provide adequate care and ensure that the transfer will be made by medical professionals fully equipped to see to the patient’s continued care.  

EMTALA guidelines apply not only to the uninsured, but also to all races and ethnicities. Violations may result in civil action, fines, and the suspension or loss of a hospital’s Medicare provider agreement. 

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