CMS hospital visit rule finalized

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 6, 2010

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Hospital patients may designate their own visitors -- including same-sex partners -- and hospital staff cannot interfere unless there is a reasonable clinical concern, according to a final rule the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued Nov. 17.

In an April 15 memorandum, President Obama asked CMS to write a regulation banning hospitals from denying visitation rights based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Obama was responding to a few high-profile cases where a same-sex partner was not allowed to visit a critically ill patient who later died.

The CMS rule requires hospitals to have written policies for patients' visitation rights, including explanations for when hospitals may restrict visitors' access based on reasonable clinical concerns. Hospitals found to violate the rule flagrantly could be blocked from participating in Medicare and Medicaid, said HHS Deputy General Counsel Ken Choe. HHS does not know how many hospitals will need to update their visitation policies. "We're hopeful that there are many hospitals already in compliance," Choe said.

Gay rights groups applauded the rule. "This is a very important first step to address the barriers many same-sex couples and their families face in medical emergencies," said Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which defends the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the courts.

CMS received more than 7,600 public comments on the rule, scheduled to take effect in mid-January.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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