Department of Health and Human Services Announces Draft Rule on Hospital Visitation

by HRC Staff

Agency seeks public comment on measure barring discrimination in visitation policies.

Washington - The Human Rights Campaign - the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization - today praised the release of a draft regulation requiring all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to adopt policies that protect the visitation rights of all patients, including LGBT people. The draft language requires hospitals to adopt written policies and procedures regarding patient visitation rights, including the right to designate visitors of one's choosing, "including, but not limited to, a spouse, a domestic partner (including a same-sex domestic partner), another family member, or a friend," and the right to visitation privileges regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. According to HHS, the draft rule will be published in the Federal Register on June 28 and the agency will solicit public comments on the proposal for 60 days.

"Today's announcement brings us a step closer to providing a critical protection for LGBT Americans and their families," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "We thank Secretary Sebelius and the Department of Health and Human Services for moving quickly to implement the President's April directive to ensure equal hospital visitation rights for our community."

"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," said Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius, in a release. "Today's proposed rules would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing-whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient's family."

Additionally, the Secretary yesterday in a letter to major hospital associations called on healthcare facilities to adopt the new standards even before the formal rulemaking is complete. This news follows a recent announcement from the Joint Commission - the largest hospital accrediting body in the nation - that it will soon require hospitals to adopt non-discrimination policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign provides resources to hospitals and other facilities to institute inclusive visitation and non-discrimination policies. Those materials are available at

HRC staff are reviewing the proposed regulation and will provide HHS with suggestions to clarify and strengthen its protections for LGBT families during the comment period. Further, HRC will launch a national action alert once the comment period is open to facilitate the ability of LGBT Americans to weigh in on this important change.

On April 15, President Obama issued a memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to promulgate a regulation requiring all hospitals that receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding - nearly every hospital in America - to allow patients to designate who may visit them and prohibiting discrimination in visitation based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, the memorandum called on the Secretary to issue new guidance and provide technical assistance to hospitals to help them comply with existing federal regulations that require them to respect individuals' advanced healthcare directives and other documents establishing who should make healthcare decisions for them when they are unable to do so. Finally, the memorandum directed HHS to conduct a larger study of the barriers LGBT people and their families face in accessing healthcare.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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