III. Your Right to Emergency Care Under EMTALA

Download a pdf version of our EMTALA Fact Sheet here.

EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment & Active Labor Act) is a federal law that requires hospitals to provide emergency treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of their immigration status or ability to pay. EMTALA helps to make sure that hospitals do not “dump” patients who are uninsured, under-insured or unable to pay for emergency care.

What Are My Rights Under EMTALA?

  • The hospital must post a sign in the emergency room notifying you of your rights under EMTALA.
  • If you go to the emergency room and request treatment, the hospital must screen you to determine whether you are suffering from an emergency medical condition. The hospital may not delay screening you to inquire about your insurance or immigration status or ability to pay.
  • If the hospital determines that you are experiencing an emergency medical condition, the hospital must either stabilize you or transfer you to an appropriate facility, if doing so would be in your best medical interest.
  • You may only be transferred to an “appropriate facility.” This means the place where you are transferred must agree to treat you before your transfer. It must also have available space and a qualified provider to care for you.

 What Else Should I Know?

  • EMTALA only applies to emergencies. It does not cover long-term or follow-up care.
  • If the hospital screens you and determines that you are not experiencing a medical emergency, the hospital doesn’t have to provide you with further treatment.
  • EMTALA only requires hospitals to treat you during an emergency. Hospitals can still bill you for the care they provided.
  • Once you are admitted to the hospital and become an in-patient, EMTALA no longer applies.

What Can I Do if I Think a Hospital Has Violated My Rights Under EMTALA?

If you think that a hospital has violated your rights under EMTALA, you can file a complaint with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the government agency responsible for enforcing EMTALA. If CMS finds that the hospital violated your rights, it can fine the hospital or prohibit it from participating in the Medicare program. You may also file a private lawsuit against the hospital that violated your rights. If you win your lawsuit, the court may award you monetary damages or require that the hospital comply with EMTALA.

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