GOP Rep Wants Emergency Rooms To Be Able To Refuse Patients

By on October 19, 2017

Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black (R) would like to change the law that requires hospital emergency rooms to treat everyone who comes through the door. The inevitable result will be – just as with the GOP healthcare proposals and President Trump ending Obamacare subsidies – more people dying.

Black, who is running for for governor of her state, told MSNBC host Chuck Todd about her proposal to change federal law last Friday, as reported by The Huffington Post. “I’m an emergency room nurse,” she said. “There are people that came into my emergency room that I, the nurse, was the first one to see them. I could have sent them to a walk-in clinic or their doctor the next day, but because of a law that Congress put into place to say, no, I have to treat everybody that walks into that emergency room.”

The law she refers to is the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, signed by Ronald Reagan. It requires all hospitals that receive Medicaid payments to treat everyone who comes into their emergency rooms.

“We must treat everybody that walks in whether you’ve had a sore throat for a week, we must see them. And that crowds the emergency room. It drives the cost of emergencies up,” she told Todd. “[W]hat it did is crowd my emergency room, where I work. And disallowed me from using my good judgment skills, of which I was trained to do and doctors are as well. And the federal government said, you must – and you can’t make those decisions. And I think that was a poor thing for us to do.”

The law was initiated to prevent “patient dumping,” where hospitals were able to refuse treatment to people seeking help at emergency rooms. Those tuned away were often uninsured or people of color.

“I would get rid of a law that says that you ― you are not allowed, as a health care professional, to make that decision about whether someone can be appropriately treated the next day, or at a walk-in clinic, or at their doctor.” But such snap judgements can sometimes be wrong. And changing the law would also just shift emergency room overcrowding to municipal and public hospitals – at least where they are available.

It’s another example of the Republican approach to healthcare that violates the spirit of the commonly accepted tenet for healthcare professionals: “First do no harm.”