Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA)
The EMTALA statute is a federal statute enacted by Congress in 1986. EMTALA prevents hospitals nationwide from “dumping” or getting rid of emergency patients who present for medical care but are unable to pay for medical services either through insurance or from their own pockets, until after the patient’s emergency medical condition has been stabilized. This provision also applies to those women who present to a hospital on an emergency basis in active labor with contractions. Other types of “emergency medical conditions” as defined by the statute may include significant impairment of bodily functions, significant impairment or failure of bodily organs, and severe pain.
It is important to note that a hospital is only required to provide an emergency patient an “appropriate medical screening examination within the capability of the hospital’s emergency department.” If, after this initial examination and stabilization, the hospital believes you would be better served at another facility, they are permitted to transfer you. Transfer from one hospital to another may occur because the hospital accepting transfer is better equipped to care for a patient in your condition, or the accepting hospital may have more specialized physicians on staff who are better trained to manage your health emergency.
Hospitals that transfer or “dump” patients in violation of the EMTALA statute may be fined by the federal government. If you feel that you have suffered personal harm as a direct result of a hospital’s violation of the requirements of the EMTALA statute, you may have the right to receive monetary damages in a lawsuit. As always, please consult a qualified attorney or attorney referral service if you have questions about EMTALA and how it may apply to the medical care you have received.
For additional information on the EMTALA statute, please consult:
42 U.S.C. §1395dd (federal statute citation)
Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services
American College of Emergency Physicians
American Academy of Emergency Medicine
Emergency Nurses Association