December 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Post-DOMA rule proposed for hospice care, nursing homes
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, gay news, Washington Blade

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid has proposed a new rule for hospice care and nursing homes. (Image public domain).

The Obama administration on Thursday announced a proposed rule that aims to ensure medical care for individuals in same-sex marriages — regardless of the state in which they live — following the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid proposes the rule to change conditions for medical care providers and suppliers receiving support from Medicare and Medicaid, including hospitals and hospice care, as well as the requirements for long-term care facilities, or nursing homes.

The thrust of the proposed rule is to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized nationwide, even in states without marriage equality, for programs that in some aspects are administered by the states.

“This proposed rule addresses certain regulations governing Medicare and Medicaid participating providers and suppliers where current regulations look to state law in a matter that implicates (or may implicate) a marital relationship,” the rule states. “Our goal is to provide equal treatment to spouses, regardless of their sex, whenever the marriage was valid in the jurisdiction in which it was entered into, without regard to whether the marriage is also recognized in the state of residence or the jurisdiction in which the health care provider or supplier is located, and where the Medicare program explicitly or impliedly provides for specific treatment of spouses.”

The proposed rule, which can found here, is set for publication in the Federal Register on Friday. Once it’s published, comments must be received by 60 days to be assured consideration before the rule is made final.

Karen Loewy, senior attorney and seniors program strategist for the LGBT group Lambda Legal, said the proposed rules are “a very welcome development” and would “amend references to discriminatory state laws to provide equal treatment to spouses.”

“In practical terms, these changes will mean that a patient’s same-sex spouse will have the same right to access information, make decisions, and be part of admissions processes that a different-sex has in hospitals, hospice care, surgical care centers, long term care settings, labs, and community mental health centers that receive Medicare or Medicaid dollars, even when the laws of the state would not recognize their right to do so,” Loewy said. “These rules would provide important automatic protections for same-sex spouses, ensuring that a patient’s spouse gets to be by his or her side, be informed, and make those difficult decisions in vulnerable health care situations.”

In summary, the proposed rule seeks to established a same-sex spouse should be considered a person’s representative — regardless of state law — for the purposes for care from ambulatory surgical centers, hospice care, exercising a patient’s rights, informing patients of their rights, notification for laboratory services to screen blood and blood products for potentially infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, care in long-term facilities, pre-admission screening and resident review for long-term care, findings of these evaluations, care in Community Mental Health Centers and client rights at these facilities.

Mark Daley, a spokesperson for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said changes in proposed rule are “common-sense” and would help elders in the LGBT community ensure they receive equal care in medical facilities.

“These new policies help ensure that one of the most vulnerable populations in our country, LGBTQ elders, are able to access federal programs in the same way that non-LGBTQ people access programs,” Daley said. “This means ensuring that same-sex spouses will be treated exactly the same as different-sex spouses in programs like long-term care facilities, Hospice care, and hospitals. What this really means for LGBTQ folks is that same-sex spouses will be able to visit and make medical decisions on behalf of their spouse, just like different-sex couples. It means that LGBTQ elders will have legal rights in the health care context, regardless of whether your state continues to discriminate against you by refusing to recognize your marriage.”

After the Supreme Court decision against DOMA, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid already issued guidance — once in September 2013 and again in May 2014 — to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized in determining eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But the proposed rule says it’s needed because policies it addresses “are administered by different statutes and are administered by state Medicaid agencies and CMS.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the proposed rule will help individuals in same-sex marriages in the medical care situations when they need assistance the most.

“When people are at their most vulnerable, from hospitals to hospice care to nursing homes, they need to know that their spouse will be fully informed, be able to help them make decisions, and be fully regarded as their spouse,” Warbelow said. “The rule proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will help to ensure that the marriages of same-sex couples are treated equally regardless of where the couple lives.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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