Emergency Medical Care

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Emergency Medical Care . . . .

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"The Bush administration is relaxing rules that say hospitals have to examine and treat people who require emergency medical care, regardless of their ability to pay.

"Under the new rule, which takes effect on Nov. 10, patients might find it more difficult to obtain certain types of emergency care at some hospitals or clinics that hospitals own and operate.

"The new rule makes clear that hospitals need not have specialists on call around the clock. Some patients might have more difficulty winning damages in court for injuries caused by violations of the federal standards.

"'The overall effect of this final rule will be to reduce the compliance burden for hospitals and physicians,' the administration says in a preamble to the regulation, to be published next Tuesday in The Federal Register.

"The administration drafted the new rule after hearing complaints from scores of hospitals and doctors who said the old standards were onerous and confusing, exposed them to suits and fines and encouraged people to seek free care in emergency rooms. Courts have often ruled for patients, and against hospitals.

"In an interview, Thomas A. Scully, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said tonight that the new standards would reduce the costs of compliance for hospitals and doctors without weakening patients' protection.

"The new rule limits the scope of a law from 1986 that defines hospital obligations. It expands the situations in which hospitals are exempt from the federal requirements." (See rest of article for more details.)