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CMS unveils reporting site for EMTALA violations

The reporting line will let patients flag when their rights to patient access to care in the ED under EMTALA have been violated, the agency said.

CMS wants to make it easier for patients to report violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act with a new online reporting website.

EMTALA, the federal law protecting patient access to care in the emergency department (ED), has been under question in recent months in light of nationwide abortion restrictions and bans. Critics of bans argue that EMTALA should protect patient access to emergency abortion care, like in the event of pregnancy complications and miscarriage.

However, CMS did not mention abortion care as part of its reporting line announcement. Rather, the agency doubled down on its commitment to patient access to emergency healthcare.

"HHS is committed to protecting access to emergency medical care for everyone in America and making sure appropriate steps are taken if they don't get that care," said Xavier Becerra, HHS secretary, in a statement. "We will continue to uphold the law and the right to emergency care, to inform people of their rights under EMTALA, and to make it easier for someone denied care to file a complaint."

Congress passed EMTALA in 1986 with the intent to protect public access to emergency healthcare services regardless of an individual's ability to pay.

Under Section 1867 of the Social Security Act, hospitals that participate in Medicare are required to provide a medical screening examination (MSE) to all patients who present in the ED. If clinicians confirm a medical emergency, hospitals are required to stabilize the patient, regardless of the patient's ability to pay.

This online complaint reporting system, which will be hosted on the CMS website, will allow individuals to flag instances in which they were denied an MSE or resulting stabilizing treatment.

"If an individual believes their EMTALA rights have been violated, it is important that they can easily file a complaint," said CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in an agency press release. "We want to make sure that everyone knows their rights and can take action to help make sure the health care system is safe for everyone."

This reporting line follows a January announcement from CMS and HHS outlining actions they will take for public education regarding EMTALA.

The agencies said they will publish informational resources about patient care access rights under EMTALA and the process for submitting a complaint; provide training materials for hospitals and provider organizations; convene healthcare provider discussions regarding EMTALA best practices; and establish an HHS team of experts specializing in EMTALA.

EMTALA has come into public discourse since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health and the more recent injunction in Texas v. Becerra. Right now, HHS might not rule that EMTALA preempts Texas abortion laws, nor can it make providers in the state follow rules about when abortions are necessary in emergency situations.

Sara Heath has been covering news related to patient engagement and health equity since 2015.

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