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HHS issues visitation policy for LGBT partners in hospice, long-term care

Monday, July 1, 2013
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WASHINGTON — The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), issued an official policy guidance Monday making it clear that same-sex partners and others must be given equal visitation rights at long-term care facilities, regardless of their marital status.

The new guidance applies to all long-term care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, including nursing homes and hospice facilities.

The guidance states that all patients in these facilities must be given the right to receive visitors of their choosing, regardless of whether the patient and visitors have a legally recognized or biological relationship. The guidance explicitly states that discrimination against the same-sex spouse or partner seeking to visit a patient is prohibited.

The new guidance resolves an issue that has been a point of confusion for many patients and healthcare providers since the implementation of the 2011 Hospital Visitation Rule.

That rule required all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to provide equal access to visitation rights to all patients and visitors, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or legally recognized or biological relationship.

However, that rule only discussed hospitals, and did not specifically address long-term care facilities.

Many same-sex couples say they have experienced discrimination at facilities like nursing homes and hospice facilities, where visitors have been denied access to their loved ones and told that the Hospital Visitation Rule did not protect their rights in these facilities.

“There are few moments in life when a person is as vulnerable as they are in a nursing home or a hospice care facility,” said Maya Rupert, Policy Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), in a statement. “Being denied access to loved ones during those precious times is devastating, and this guidance will ensure that LGBT patients, particularly LGBT elders, and their families will no longer face this heartbreaking discrimination.”

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