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CMS proposes new rules for equal visitation
Same-sex domestic partners included
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed new rules for hospitals that would protect patients' right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including visitors who are same-sex domestic partners, according to CMS.
With the proposed rules, published in the Federal Register on June 28, CMS was responding to an April 15, 2010, Presidential Memorandum to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the memorandum, President Barak Obama "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."
According to CMS, "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."
CMS said that a "key provision" of the proposed rules is that visitors chosen by the patient "must be able to enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those for immediate family members." The patient's proxy or surrogate decision-maker should the patient lose the capacity to make decisions can also make patient visitor choices for the patient.
"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a June HHS news release. "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 visitation rules would be an update to the Conditions of Participation (CoPs). CoPs are minimum health and safety standards all hospitals, including critical access hospitals, that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must meet.
"The 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 family situations," said Marilyn Tavenner, CMS acting administrator at the time. "In the environment of inclusion that this rule promotes, patients and providers can expect improved patient experiences of care."
In the Presidential Memorandum, President Obama noted that "...every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay. Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf."
"Also uniquely affected," the memorandum states, "are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives. . ."