What is EMTALA?

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted by Congress in 1986. The Act’s original intent was to prevent hospitals from refusing to see patients based on inability to pay and to assure patients were transferred only when appropriate and in a safe manner.

EMTALA compliance is important and necessary for emergency departments to provide safe, quality care. When a patient presents to a dedicated emergency department or is on hospital property and requests care EMTALA is immediately in effect. Medical screening examinations or treatment cannot be delayed to inquire information about an individual’s insurance status or payment method.

Providers are obligated to provide a medical screening examination, determine if an emergency medical condition exists and stabilize or if the patient cannot be properly stabilized, provide the appropriate transfer. EMTALA obligations end when a patient is seen, screened and admitted for hospital services, when a patiently is appropriately transferred, when no emergency medical condition exists or when a patient has been offered a screening exam and informed of the risks but refuses treatment.


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