In response to President Obama’s April memorandum — which directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure equal treatment in hospital visitation — the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed new rules for hospital visitation rights. This change would allow patients or their representatives to indicate to hospital staff whom should and should not be allowed to visit. Patients in a same-sex relationship would not be required to have documentation to allow their partners to visit.

Currently, same-sex partners may create a hospital visitation document to ensure their partners will have hospital visitation access, but these documents are not recognized in all states nor by all hospitals. Making this rule change should prevent future tragic stories such as the one experienced by Janice Langbehn, whose partner Lisa Marie Pond died in a hospital while Janice was refused permission to be by Pond’s side as she passed.

Prior to the new rule taking effect, there will be a 60-day period for hospitals and the general public to voice concerns about the change. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked that hospitals independently review and revise their own visitation policies to comply with the upcoming rule change during this comment period.

North Carolina’s Patient Bill of Rights already protects same-sex couples. Those changes were won in 2008. The state’s protections read: “A patient has the right to designate visitors who shall receive the same visitation privileges as the patient’s immediate family members, regardless of whether the visitors are legally related to the patient.”

The rule affects only hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs, but nearly all hospitals in America do.

Update: South Carolina does allow same-sex partner visitation if power of attorney has been given.

Tyler DeVere

Tyler DeVere is a former editorial intern for QNotes.