Every emergency room in the United States is required to treat patients with life-threatening injuries regardless of the patient's ability to pay or the type of health insurance he carries. Outside of these circumstances, there may be certain emergency rooms across the country where a patient with low income or no health insurance can be turned away from care.
Assess and Administer Stabilizing Care
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires any hospital in the country that accepts Medicare and maintains a facility dedicated to emergency room care to administer a screening exam and stabilize care to all patients who enter the ER. This means the hospital is required to determine the extent of injuries or illness and administer a level of care where your discharge from the hospital will not cause a dramatic deterioration in your condition. Basically, the ER is required to make certain your injuries won't claim your life if and when you are discharged from the hospital.
Waiting Period for Treatment
A hospital that participates in Medicare with a dedicated emergency room cannot delay the screening or treatment process to ask about the status of your health insurance or to inquire how you plan to pay for treatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This means you should receive no questions about your health insurance when you walk into an emergency room for treatment. The hospital is, of course, free to inquire about your insurance status once an assessment of your condition is made and stabilizing care is administered.
Transfer of Patient
If a hospital emergency room does not have adequate facilities to administer stabilizing care, the doctor is required to immediately request a patient transfer to another hospital with adequate facilities. This transfer may be done to satisfy the ER's obligations to administer stabilizing care under EMTALA regulations. A physician or other certified health care professional must certify that the risks of transfer outweigh the risks of remaining in the current emergency room. The receiving hospital is also required to consent to administer stabilizing care to the patient and have adequate space to treat him.
Refuse to Treat
An emergency room that does not participate in Medicare and is run as a for-profit business has the right to refuse to treat you if your condition is not life-threatening. This means that if you enter the emergency room with a condition that does not require stabilizing care, such as a cold, small abrasion or the flu, you may be refused treatment if the hospital believes you will not be able to pay for services. In this event, you may consider visiting a free health clinic provided by a non-profit hospital in your area.
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