CMS probes 2 hospitals over EMTALA violations

CMS is investigating two hospitals for allegedly not providing stabilizing care to a pregnant patient experiencing a medical emergency — a violation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, the agency announced May 1. 

The investigations center around a patient who was nearly 18 weeks pregnant when she  experienced a preterm premature rupture of membranes and was advised that her pregnancy was no longer viable, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a letter sent to hospitals across the U.S.

"Although her doctors advised her that her condition could rapidly deteriorate, they also advised that they could not provide her with the care that would prevent infection, hemorrhage, and potentially death because, they said, the hospital policies prohibited treatment that could be considered an abortion. This was a violation of the EMTALA protections that were designed to protect patients like her," Mr. Becerra wrote of the 36-year-old federal law requiring Medicare hospitals to provide all patients appropriate emergency medical care. 

The patient survived, "but she never should have gone through the terrifying ordeal she experienced in the first place," the letter said. HHS did not name the hospitals under investigation, but the National Women's Law Center, which filed a complaint on behalf of the patient, identified them as Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, Mo., and the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City. 

"The care provided to the patient was reviewed by the hospital and found to be in accordance with hospital policy," the University of Kansas Health System said in a statement to CNN. "It met the standard of care based upon the facts known at the time, and complied with all applicable law. There is a process with CMS for this complaint and we respect that process. The University of Kansas Health System follows federal and Kansas law in providing appropriate, stabilizing, and quality care to all of its patients, including obstetric patients."

Freeman Hospital did not immediately respond to CNN or AP's request for comment. Providers across the nation were left to navigate a patchwork of new state restrictions on abortion after the Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade, causing confusion and uncertainty. 

In the May 1 letter to hospitals, Mr. Becerra reiterated federal law takes precedence over state laws in emergency medical situations. 

"While many state laws have recently changed, it's important to know that the federal EMTALA requirements have not changed, and continue to require that healthcare professionals offer treatment, including abortion care, that the provider reasonably determines is necessary to stabilize the patient's emergency medical condition," he said. 

This marks the first time HHS has enforced EMTALA for denied emergency abortion care since the Supreme Court's June 24 ruling. An HHS spokesperson told CNN both hospitals are working toward compliance with the federal law. Read about EMTALA violation penalties here

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