The Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) on Wednesday announced new guidance to support
enforcement of a memo signed last April by President Barack Obama
that bans hospitals from discriminating against gay men and lesbians.
Obama's order prohibits hospitals that
accept federal funding from Medicare and Medicaid, the government's
elderly and poor health care programs, from discriminating on the
basis of a variety of characteristics, including sexual orientation
and gender identity. It also prevents hospitals from denying
visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians, and
requires officials to honor patients' wishes of who can make medical
decisions on their behalf.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services (CMS), an agency under the direction of the department of
Health and Human Services (HHS), finalized the rules in November.
“Couples take a vow to be with each
other in sickness and in health and it is unacceptable that, in the
past, some same-sex partners were denied the right to visit their
loved ones in times of need,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“We are releasing guidance for enforcing new rules that give all
patients, including those with same-sex partners, the right to choose
who can visit them in the hospital as well as enhancing existing
guidance regarding the right to choose who will help make medical
decisions on their behalf.”
Hospital inspectors will now be
required to evaluate hospitals on whether they are in compliance with
the equal visitation and representation rights requirements.
“This announcement is another step
toward equal rights for all Americans, and it is another step toward
putting the patient at the center of our health care system,” said
CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, M.D. “All patients should be
afforded the same rights and privileges when they enter our health
care system, and that includes the same opportunities to see their
Gay rights groups have called the new
rules a small but significant contribution towards equality in the
absence of the legal right to marry in most jurisdictions.