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   Bush Administration Proposes Plan to Weaken Emergency Room Care Standards

New Rule Would Take Effect Nov. 10:

Bush Administration Proposes Plan to Weaken Emergency Room Care Standards

Special to The Chronicle from Congressman Cardin's Office

"These regulations will gut emergency room care. They will let hospitals slash their ER staffs to the point where they will be unable to provide basic screening and stabilization as required by law. Patients will see drastically reduced access to specialists such as neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and cardiologists," said Rep. Cardin.
WASHINGTON, SEPT. 3-U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin today condemned the Bush Administration's plan to weaken standards for emergency room care that were instituted in 1986 to stop hospitals from denying care to uninsured patients in need of emergency services. The Bush Administration plans to publish the new regulations next week in the Federal Register and the change will take effect on Nov. 10.

The Congressman, a leader in expanding access to emergency room care and in protecting patients' rights, urged the Bush Administration to reconsider the new regulations because they will "drastically affect access to care and endanger the health and lives of many who seek treatment in our nation's emergency rooms."

Currently, 44 million Americans lack health insurance. Rep. Cardin stressed that hospitals enjoy a tax preference as part of the requirement to treat those without health insurance. "Weakening standards for emergency room care is not the way to deal with the uninsured," he said.

The new regulations will undermine protections established in 1986 by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). That law requires hospitals to provide a medical screening examination for patients seeking emergency services. Hospitals must also stabilize the patient or transfer the patient to another institution. EMTALA also requires hospitals to maintain a list of doctors who are on call to treat emergency room patients.

Under the new Bush Administration regulations, hospitals will no longer be required to have doctors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also allows doctors to have on-call duties at two or more hospitals simultaneously and to schedule elective surgery or other procedures when on call.

"These regulations will gut emergency room care. They will let hospitals slash their ER staffs to the point where they will be unable to provide basic screening and stabilization as required by law. Patients will see drastically reduced access to specialists such as neurosurgeons, orthopedists, and cardiologists," said Rep. Cardin.

The Congressman, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, noted that the new regulations "would present a serious threat to homeland security in case of another terrorist attack. Emergency rooms must be staffed adequately to provide appropriate services for any event that may arise."

Rep. Cardin has introduced the Access to Emergency Medical Services Act in every Congress since 1995. In 1997, Congress enacted legislation guaranteeing emergency care protections to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. In 1998, President Clinton issued an executive order to extend similar protections to enrollees in FEHBP, veterans' and military health plans.


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This story was published on September 4, 2003.
  
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