The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which hears appeals from decisions in the federal courts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, recently issued a major decision interpreting the scope of coverage of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”). As the Third Circuit explained,
[The] shift from medical emergency management to primary care treatment has resulted in a “grave financial challenge” for hospital administrators. Many of them responded to this economic pressure by engaging in a practice known as “patient dumping.” That term refers to the practice of refusing to offer emergency room treatment to indigent patients who lack medical insurance, or transferring them to other medical facilities before their emergency medical condition has been stabilized. Congress attempted to address this situation by enacting EMTALA. EMTALA imposes certain mandates on hospitals regardless of whether a patient who presents to an emergency room has the ability to pay for treatment.
EMTALA requires hospitals to first examine each patient to determine whether an emergency medical condition exists. “[I]f the examination reveals the patient is suffering from an emergency medical condition, the hospital usually must stabilize the patient before getting into the business of trying to [discharge or] transfer him [or her] elsewhere.”[ A hospital that either (1) fails to properly screen a patient, or (2) releases a patient without first stabilizing his or her emergency medical condition thereby violates EMTALA.