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Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) 2002-15: Review of Office of Inspector General Patient Dumping Settlements

  • Author(s): Zuabi, Nadia
  • Weiss, Larry D.
  • Langdorf, Mark I.
  • et al.
Abstract

Introduction: The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986 was enacted to prevent hospitals from “dumping” or refusing service to patients for financial reasons. The statute prohibits discrimination of emergency department (ED) patients for any reason. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services enforces the statute. The objective of this study is to determine the scope, cost, frequency and most common allegations leading to monetary settlement against hospitals and physicians for patient dumping.

Methods: Review of OIG investigation archives in May 2015, including cases settled from 2002-2015 (https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/enforcement/cmp/patient_dumping.asp).

Results: There were 192 settlements (14 per year average for 4000+ hospitals in the USA). Fines against hospitals and physicians totaled $6,357,000 (averages $33,435 and $25,625 respectively); 184/192 (95.8%, $6,152,000) settlements were against hospitals and eight against physicians ($205,000). Most common settlements were for failing to screen 144/192 (75%) and stabilize 82/192 (42.7%) for emergency medical conditions (EMC). There were 22 (11.5%) cases of inappropriate transfer and 22 (11.5%) more where the hospital failed to transfer. Hospitals failed to accept an appropriate transfer in 25 (13.0%) cases. Patients were turned away from hospitals for insurance/financial status in 30 (15.6%) cases. There were 13 (6.8%) violations for patients in active labor. In 12 (6.3%) cases, the on-call physician refused to see the patient, and in 28 (14.6%) cases the patient was inappropriately discharged. Although loss of Medicare/Medicaid funding is an additional possible penalty, there were no disclosures of exclusion of hospitals from federal funding. There were 6,035 CMS investigations during this time period, with 2,436 found to have merit as EMTALA violations (40.4%). However, only 192/6,035 (3.2%) actually resulted in OIG settlements. The proportion of CMS-certified EMTALA violations that resulted in OIG settlements was 7.9% (192/2,436).

Conclusion: Of 192 hospital and physician settlements with the OIG from 2002-15, most were for failing to provide screening (75%) and stabilization (42%) to patients with EMCs. The reason for patient “dumping” was due to insurance or financial status in 15.6% of settlements. The vast majority of penalties were to hospitals (95% of cases and 97% of payments). Forty percent of investigations found EMTALA violations, but only 3% of investigations triggered fines.

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