What is EMTALA?

Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) (42 USC 1395dd et seq) is a non-discrimination statute included in the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985. Congress enacted EMTALA in response to concerns that hospitals were denying emergency care to indigent and uninsured patients, and “dumping” them to another facility for care (usually charity or county hospitals), or to no facility at all, by discharging the patient after a token, inadequate medical exam.

Although EMTALA applies only to hospitals that participate and accept payment from governmental entities, it really applies to almost all hospitals and all patients. EMTALA requires participating hospitals to adhere to three primary obligations regarding the treatment of patients who comes to a participating hospital for emergency medical care:

1. An appropriate medical screening examination within the capability of the hospital’s emergency department, including ancillary services routinely available to the emergency department, to determine if an emergency medical condition (EMC) exists.

2. If it is determined that an EMC exists, the hospital must provide treatment to stabilize the medical condition, or appropriately transfer the patient to another hospital.

3. The hospital must abide by restrictions on transferring unstable patients. Patients may be transferred under EMTALA solely for medical necessity.

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