Recently, the Health Care Safety Net Enhancement Act of 2015 was introduced by Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) which would amend the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) to extend liability protections to on-call and emergency room physicians. The bill (H.R. 836) is intended to improve emergency care for patients and make certain that emergency services furnished by a hospital would be covered in the same manner as Community Health Centers.
The legislation’s aim is to provide temporary liability protections to emergency and on-call physicians who perform medical services mandated by the EMTALA law. This signifies that the protections cease once patient’s emergency conditions are stabilized. Dr. Alex Rosenau says, “Some of the most dangerous situations that emergency patients can face are delays in care caused by physician shortages. Many physicians will not treat emergency patients because of additional liability exposure, and we believe this bill will encourage many specialists to take call in the emergency department. This legislation will help ensure that emergency physicians and on-call specialists continue their lifesaving work and ensure the availability of emergency medical care.”
EMTALA was enacted by Congress in 1986 to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of insurance status and ability to pay. If a patient has an emergency health condition, then treatment must be provided by the hospital, or the patient must be transferred to a facility that can provide the necessary treatment.
Dr. Rosenau adds, “Research shows that emergency physicians often apply different standards than what they would do for themselves, out of fear of being sued. Healthcare reform is incomplete without meaningful liability reform. If the federal government is going to require these services to be performed on our behalf, then it’s only right that they assume the liability for that care as well.”
The CMS considers EMTALA deficiencies as the number one problematic standard for hospitals, where many involved the on-call physician issue. The November 2014 deficiency report found 1725 EMTALA deficiencies, out of which 85 were related to on call physician issues. ProfEdOnDemand is conducting an audio session on CMS EMTALA CoPs and OIG’s recommendation.