New rules finalized protecting patients’ right to choose hospital visitors

Back in April, President Obama took on the issue of a hospital patient’s right to be visited by the person of their choosing. He specifically addressed cases in which same-sex partners were denied access to their loved ones in hospital.

Well starting now, that changes–at least for hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid (which is nearly all of them).

Via HHS:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today issued new rules for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals that protect patients’ right to choose their own visitors during a hospital stay, including a visitor who is a same-sex domestic partner.

“Basic human rights—such as your ability to choose your own support system in a time of need—must not be checked at the door of America’s hospitals,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “Today’s rules help give ‘full and equal’ rights to all of us to choose whom we want by our bedside when we are sick, and override any objection by a hospital or staffer who may disagree with us for any non-clinical reason.”

This is a big step forward. I’m really excited that the rules don’t just expand our definition of family to include same-sex partners, they actually give patients the right to determine who visits them, regardless of their relationship.

Among other things, the rules impose new requirements on hospitals to explain to all patients their right to choose who may visit them during their inpatient stay, regardless of whether the visitor is a family member, a spouse, a domestic partner (including a same-sex domestic partner), or other type of visitor, as well as their right to withdraw such consent to visitation at any time.

I believe that we should be fighting for these types of privileges, which are often connected to our marital status, to be expanded instead to the people we choose, regardless of our relationship to them. Not just for hospital visitation, but also for health benefits, medical decision-making, wills, taxes, all of it.

The government, or hospital staff, shouldn’t be able to tell us who is legitimate enough to support us when we are sick. Only we can make those decisions. This is a really important step forward for patients rights.

Join the Conversation

  • Ms. Smarty Pants

    This is excellent news. And not only for same-sex partners, but also for women who are giving birth or have just undergone C-section. I was the birth partner for one of my close friends at a hospital several years ago, and she ended up having to have an emergency C-section (which was probably unnecessary, but that’s another story). After the procedure, her husband stayed with their newborn daughter in the NICU, and so my friend was absolutely alone. They wouldn’t let me in to be with her, saying that only blood relatives and spouses were allowed in – even after she asked for me to be allowed in. In fact, when I tried to walk into the recovery room, accompanied by her mother, they immediately threatened me, saying that they would throw me out of the hospital if I tried to enter. It was horrible.

  • Cathy Brown

    The funny thing is that non-married hetero partners are often actually granted these rights in practice. My mother’s boyfriend had to have a stent put in and he had a complication requiring him to stay overnight. At no point during this was she ever denied access to him. My sister handles her long term boyfriend’s unemployment benefits and doctor’s appointments without a bit of trouble. It is not the legal issues, but the social ones about who is and is not legitimate as ‘family’ or for close support that often present the problems, making the more vulnerable subject to different rules than the less vulnerable even with comparable legal rights.

    • Sam Lindsay-Levine

      This is very true and an extremely insightful point. I had the same experience when my then-fiance had her appendix removed and I was with her overnight in the hospital.

  • Visibility

    I’ve always had a difficult time understanding how hospitals deny visitors when the patient is OK with that visitor. Maybe I am just lucky to have worked in hospitals who don’t deny this right to their patientsAt the hospitals in which I have worked, any visitor is allowed to see any patient as long as it’s okay with that patient – it doesn’t have to be “family only.” Plenty of patients have friends who come and visit. If it’s visiting hours, the patient is medically OK to have visitors, and most importantly the patient is OK with having said visitors, I don’t really see how the hospitals ever have a case. The only people who are denied access during visiting hours are visitors who the patient has specifically blocked, or who are rude/disruptive.

    Making medical decisions on behalf of a patient is a different story as legal paperwork, etc is involved; hopefully we can fix that once the LGBTQ community stops getting their human rights trampled upon by the scared, insecure, yet paradoxically loud and powerful elements of our society.