June 23, 2010 at 9:35 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
HHS proposes hospital visitation rule

The Department of Health & Human Services on Wednesday officially  proposed an new adminstrative rule following up on a presidential memorandum mandating hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.

The proposed regulation — issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — would require hospitals that receive funds under Medicare and Medicaid to allow patients during a hospital stay to designate a same-sex partner as a visitor.

“Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Today’s proposed rules would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing — whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient’s family.”

The new announcement comes on the heels of a letter Sebelius sent to hospitals on Tuesday calling on hospitals to go forward with the change even before the rule-making process is complete

President Obama directed HHS to develop these new rules in an April 15 presidential memorandum. In the same directive, Obama also asked HHS to develop policy to require hospitals to comply with directives giving LGBT Americans the authority to make emergency medical decisions for their partners. The memorandum also asks for additional recommendations on ways to address LGBT health issues in 180 days.

Don McLeon, an HHS spokesperson, said a group within the department is “actively working” on ways to implement other parts of the president’s memorandum.

In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised HHS for starting the process for issuing the hospital visitation change.

“Today’s announcement brings us a step closer to providing a critical protection for LGBT Americans and their families,” Solmonese said.

The proposed rules would mandate hospitals have written policies for patients’ visitation rights and specify instances in which the hospital may restrict patient access to visitors based on reasonable clinical needs.
According to HHS, one key provision of the proposed rules spells out that visitors chosen by a patient must have the same visitation privileges afforded to immediate family members.

The proposed regulations will be available for public comment for 60 days and are set to become final after CMS has considered the comments.

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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