Hospital Visitation & Decision-Making Rights for More Americans

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Imagine that your loved one was in the hospital and you were not allowed visitation rights—even in a life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, for some Americans, this has been a harsh reality as many hospitals across the country do not allow those unrelated by blood or marriage into a patient’s hospital room.

In April 2010, however, President Obama asked the Department of Health and Human Services to create rules for hospitals to provide visitation and decision-making rights to more Americans. The mandate applies to gay couples, unmarried straight couples, and widows/widowers who may be dependent on close friends, among others. ''By taking these steps, we can better protect the interests and needs of patients… for whom their loved ones are not always immediate relatives,” stated White House spokesman Shin Inouye.

The new rules are being called a win for gay rights, as all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding from the government (a majority of the hospitals in the US) will be required to grant hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples.

The change in rules also affects the way an assigned person can make healthcare decisions for someone else, such as through a living will or healthcare power of attorney. A Living Will is a legal document that outlines one’s wishes for healthcare and appoints someone to carry out those wishes in a dire situation. This document is only “activated” when the patient is in a comatose state or otherwise unable to make his or her own healthcare decisions. Under the new rules, hospitals will be required to respect healthcare powers of attorney regardless of the assigned person’s relationship to the patient.

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” the president stated in his memo, dated April 15, 2010. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean—a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.”

More info:

LegalZoom Living Wills

LegalZoom Blog: Obama: Hospital Patients Can Designate Visitors

US Department of Health and Human Services

President Obama’s Memo (PDF)

Obama Alters Hospital Rules for Gay Rights (The New York Times)