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Can a hospital refuse to give proper treatment to individuals who don't have insurance?

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Attorney answers 3


There is a federal statute known as EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) enforces, and which most hospitals are bound by, that imposes some very limited requirements for hospitals to screen and stabilize individuals who are who present themselves at a hospital's emergency room and request screening or care for an emergency medical condition, including active labor. These duties are explained by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) an agency within HHS, at the following webpage: Also, depending on your state, there may be charity care requirements imposed -- depending on the type of institution (i.e., non-profits versus for-profits) in light of the tax benefits trade-off provided to to non-profits institutions. This answer does not, nor is it intended to, create an attorney-client relationship. Rather, it is offered solely for informational purposes. Since the facts of each case are different, it is important to seek out qualified counsel with whom information can be shared and assessed under an attorney-client privilege so that competent and tailored advice can be provided.


There are certain limited obligations to treat emergency conditions established in federal law if the hospital has the available resources and equipment, and if the hospital participates in a federal health care program (most do). Certain states also impose duties to offer emergency assistance, particularly if the entity is a non-profit or charitable health care entity.

But you will often find that most communities have community sponsored health care clinics or programs to offer treatment when hospitals can't offer the treatment. The use of acute care facility (like a hospital) for the sickest people is a better use of resources than treating everyone that comes to the door. That way, when you really need emergency care, the trauma care is available rather than spent on flu shots, or basic care.

For this reason, the federal health programs, and those of many states are promoting establishment of more cost effective clinics or community care centers than are more likely to be partially funded by the local, state or federal government.

This problem is very complex legal and public health policy issue. So the answer may vary in your state, and the answer today is likely to be different in a short time.


The federal EMTALA law requires hospitals with emergency departments to provide a screening of a medical condition to anyone who presents with a "medical condition." Once the screening is done, if the hospital determines that an "emergency medical condition" is present, the hospital must treat and stabilize the condition or transfer the patient in accordance with EMTALA. Unless a state law applies, federal EMTALA does not require a hospital to "give proper treatment" (as you wrote) to anyone unless the hospital determines after a medical screening exam that the patient has an emergency medical condition. For more information go to (this answer does not, nor is it intended to, create an attorney-client relationship. It is offered solelly for informational purposes. Seek a licensed attorney in your state).