A mandate issued by President Obama requires hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding to allow gays and lesbians to have non-family visitors and to grant their partners medical power of attorney.
In the memo (PDF), President Obama reportedly ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. In his memo, he wrote that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised President Obama’s decision, saying “Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever.”
New Rules Apply to Any Hospital Receiving Medicare or Medicaid Funding
The new rule will apply to any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding, which covers the vast majority of the country’s health-care institutions.
The mandate is aimed at ending the common practice by many hospitals of insisting that only family members by blood or marriage be allowed to visit patients.
The memo from Obama to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius orders new rules ensuring that hospitals ‘respect the rights of patients to designate visitors.’ President Obama wants to expand on steps taken by many states to put an end to discrimination in hospital visitations.
The rule-making process could take several months, as there are still a number of areas in which federal law requires proof of marriage, including receiving Social Security benefits and in taxes.
“All Across America, Patients are Denied the Kindness and Caring of a Loved One at Their Sides”
In the memo (PDF), Obama wrote:
“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.
Yet 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 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 — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”
According to the Washington Post, Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida — Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were together for almost 18 years — who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side.
The document clearly focuses on gays but the new rules will apply to widows and widowers unable to receive visits from friends or companions and allow some religious orders to designate someone other family members to make medical decisions. It’s a big step towards eliminating discrimination, but there are more to go.