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What is EMTALA?

Given the high cost of healthcare, some in Queens may choose to avoid seeking medical treatment altogether. You may share this same attitude, especially if you do not have health insurance. Yet what if you are left with no choice? When an emergency situation arises and you need immediate treatment, are you expected to avoid seeking it simply because you are uninsured? Perhaps a better question is whether a hospital is allowed to refuse you emergency care if it fears you are unable to pay for your service.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act is a federal law which requires hospitals to provide you with stabilizing care in the event of an emergency regardless of your ability to pay. Not all medical facilities fall under its scope. Only those that have a dedicated emergency department are held to EMTALA’s standards.

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, hospital emergency departments are obligated under EMTALA to adhere to the following steps:

  •          Provide you with an examination to determine is you are indeed suffering from a medical ailment.
  •          If a medical problem is identified, the staff must effectively treat its symptoms or stabilize your condition.
  •          If the facility is not equipped to treat your condition, it must arrange a transfer to another facility that can. The receiving hospital also cannot refuse you for payment concerns.

Aside from guaranteeing you care in emergency situations, EMTALA also applies if you go into labor. At any time during your hospital stay, treatment cannot be purposely delayed in order to collect a payment from you.

Hospitals found to be in violation of EMTALA risk heavy fines and the potential to have their provider agreement with Medicare revoked. One may also argue that a failure to correctly follow this policy could constitute negligence.

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