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HHS Announces New Visitation Regulations

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New government regulations will PROHIBIT federally-funded hospitals from discriminating against visitors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Health and Human Services officials said on a conference call Wednesday that Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals must now have written policies that let patients know of their GUARANTEED right to designate visitors, like same-sex partners. The only exception would be if the hospital has a CLINICAL reason not to allow a visitor access.

President Obama asked the department to create standards by which hospitals were required to respect patients’ visitation wishes back in April.

Janice Langbehn became an early flag-carrier for the change. A Florida hospital denied Langbehn the right to visit her dying partner last year. She thanked the president and department officials during Wednesday’s conference call saying the new rules were a “great need for the LGBT community.”

LANGBEHN: “That’s why this rule to me is very important because now there is a remedy for other families like myself to make a complaint and have it taken seriously.”

HHS lawyer Ken Choe says hospitals should only require visitors to present documentation when a patient is incapacitated AND there’s a dispute between two or more people about who has the right to visit. Otherwise, patients get the say.

Choe says hospitals that do not comply with the new regulations could ultimately be dropped from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Gay rights groups applauded HHS’s announcement Wednesday. But Lambda Legal’s Tara Borelli said in a statement, “While the new regulations don’t address every concern we’ve expressed…we’re encouraged that HHS has said we can expect announcements of additional guidance.”

Written by Xorje Olivares

November 18, 2010 at 2:40 AM

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