Statement On The Presidential Memorandum On Respecting The Rights Of Hospital Patients

Last week, the country took another important step toward a more just and perfect union when President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Respecting the Rights of Hospital Patients to Receive Visitors and to Designate Surrogate Decision Makers for Medical Emergencies.  I applaud the President for this effort to ensure that every person enjoys the same right to have their loved ones with them in hospitals and to designate surrogate decision makers when they are hospitalized, often in their time of greatest need.  No one should be forced to face important medical decisions or spend their last moments apart from their loved ones just because the person they love happens to be of the same sex.

The President has directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue regulations prohibiting hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid from denying visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  The memorandum issued last week also calls for greater enforcement of existing regulations that ensure all patients’ legal representatives have the right to make informed decisions regarding patients’ care.

There is a tragic history of discrimination in health care, but fortunately, we are making progress to end it.  Hospitals were racially segregated until the 1960s, when Congress passed legislation prohibiting that discrimination in hospitals that are recipients of Federal funding.  The President’s memorandum is a similarly important step toward equal treatment.  For too long, some hospital patients have been denied the basic rights of receiving visitors and designating surrogate decision makers without a remedy in Federal law.  In Vermont, many same sex couples have sought to be recognized as committed couples by law to ensure that they and their families are entitled to these rights.  Those families should not lose those rights when traveling out of state. 

The fight for equal rights protections continues in Congress.  I am a proud cosponsor of the bipartisan Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, which would provide domestic partners of Federal employees all of the protections and benefits afforded to spouses of Federal employees, including participation in applicable retirement programs, compensation for work injuries and health insurance benefits.  I also support the Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2009, which would end the taxation of health benefits provided to domestic partners in workplaces that provide domestic partner health benefits to their employees.

Respecting the rights of all hospital patients to have their loved ones near in times of crisis is something every American should support.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693