The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that requires hospitals that accept Medicare payments to provide emergency healthcare to anybody regardless of citizenship or immigration status or their ability to pay. Under the law, hospitals that accept Medicare payments can’t transfer or discharge patients that need emergency treatment unless there’s informed consent on the part of the patient or after the patient is stabilized. An exception is when the patient’s condition requires the patient’s transfer to a hospital that’s better equipped to administer treatment.
Because patient care for Ebola patients is so unique, we (and most other states) have been struggling to interpret EMTALA requirements when building our protocol for assessment and treatment of Ebola (or potential Ebola) patients. Last Fall the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent out a survey and certification letter to provide guidance to hospitals regarding meeting EMTALA requirements if a patient presents who was potentially exposed to Ebola.
Last week they followed up their earlier memo with a Q & A for clarification. The short story is that all Medicare-certified hospitals with an emergency department are expected (at a minimum) to screen, isolate and begin stabilizing treatment for any patient with possible Ebola symptoms. Medicare-participating hospitals with specialized capabilities (our designated hospitals) are required (within the limits of their capability and capacity) to accept appropriate transfers of individuals protected under EMTALA from other hospitals, without regard to insurance or ability to pay. CMS hasn’t published the Q & A publically yet – but we’ll make sure it gets into our Ebola website when it’s ready for broad distribution.
We’ll be taking a close look at the new clarification as we continue to build our protocols for treating Ebola and other emerging infectious diseases.