Civil Rights Commission Holds Hearing on Patient Busing Practices
On Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing to discuss potential reforms to a federal law enacted to protect patients from being discharged without receiving a proper treatment and clearance plan, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The hearing comes after a Bee review of bus receipts kept by the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services found that a Las Vegas hospital improperly sent patients to California and other states (Hubert, Sacramento Bee, 3/14).
The review found that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital sent more than 1,500 patients to California and other states since July 2008.
In addition, the Bee review found that the number of patients with mental illnesses sent by Rawson-Neal to other cities via Greyhound bus increased by 66% from 2009 to 2012. According to the review, about one-third of such individuals traveled to California (California Healthline, 12/16/13).
Details of Hearing
The hearing aimed to review the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals participating in the Medicare program to treat individuals with urgent medical needs despite their ability to pay for such services.
According to the Bee, some experts noted that the federal government only responds to complaints that hospitals are violating the law rather than regularly monitoring hospitals for compliance.
Patient advocates added that state regulators and civil litigators often are the only entities holding hospitals accountable when the law is violated because the federal government rarely issues penalties for EMTALA violations.
Katharine Van Tassel, an expert in medical law at the University of Akron School of Law, said, "In three decades since EMTALA's passage, the health care delivery system has changed dramatically, [b]ut EMTALA has been left far behind."
Some panelists also noted that the problem has been exacerbated by budget cuts and the closure of mental health facilities.
However, Gina Greenwood, an attorney for a national firm at represents hospitals, said providers are already burdened by regulations and that stricter laws would worsen the situation. She said officials instead should provide better training and education for physicians who treat individuals with mental health issues.
Staci Pratt, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government has a "core obligation" to protect the rights of patients with mental health issues (Sacramento Bee, 3/14).
The commission, which advises President Obama and Congress, will accept public comments on the issue until April 14, 2014 (USCCR release, 3/14).
It is expected to release a report on the issue in September (Sacramento Bee, 3/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.