The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)  is a federal law that requires anyone coming to an emergency department to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.  The act was passed in 1986.   It is commonly known as the anti-dumping act.  It was designed to prevent hospitals from transferring uninsured or Medicaid patients to public hospitals without, at a minimum, providing a medical screening examination to ensure they were stable for transfer.   EMTALA requires Medicare-participating hospitals with emergency departments to screen and treat the emergency medical conditions of patients in a non-discriminatory manner to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, insurance status, national origin, race, creed or color.

In December 2014,  a homeless man was treated at Good Samaritan Hospital for a foot injury and then released with nothing but a bus token.  Good Samaritan Hospital has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle allegations that it dumped this patient and  agreed to abide by strict discharge protocols.  While Good Samaritan admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, the agreement comes as part of a crackdown by the city attorney’s office on hospitals suspected of improperly discharging patients. So far, the city has collected $2 million in fees, fines and other payments from four hospitals.

When presenting to an emergency room, patients must be screened, treated and stabilized before transfer.  This must happen without regards to a patient’s ability pay.  Be mindful the next time you head to the emergency that a bus token is simply not enough.