Both public and private hospitals are prohibited by law from denying a patient care in an emergency. The Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act (EMTLA) passed by Congress in 1986 forbids the denial of care to indigent or uninsured patients based on a lack of ability to pay.

Patient Protection under the Emergency Medical and Treatment Labor Act

In addition to prohibiting the denial of emergency patient care, the EMTLA also prohibits unnecessary transfers of emergency patients to other hospitals while care is being administered and prohibits the suspension of care while ability to pay is being checked once care is initiated, provisions that prevent dumping patients who cannot pay.

A schedule of stiff fines is included in the EMTLA to discourage lying about the severity of a patient’s condition. Both hospitals and individual doctors can be held liable under the EMTLA, doubling potential financial punishment.

Hospitals Found in Violation of the EMTLA

Between January and September 2014, the following nine US hospitals were found guilty of violating the EMTLA:

Claiborne County Medical Center, Mississippi

Gregory Bohn, M.D., on-call surgeon at Trinity Bettendorf Hospital, Iowa

Mercy Hospital, Florida

Olive View – UCLA Medical Center – a county hospital in Sylmar, California

Saint Joseph’s Medical Center, New York

Springfield Hospital, Vermont

St. Vincent Jennings Hospital, Indiana

Trinity Medical Center d/b/a Trinity Bettendorf, Iowa

Winter Haven Hospital, Florida

Each of these cases was resolved through a settlement agreement with the settling party contesting the allegations and denying any liability.