Can I sue a hospital for refusing to treat me in the ER because I did not have my copay?
1 Answer from Attorneys
First of all, you posted this in the part of Law Guru that deals with attorneys who make legal errors, so attorneys that actually handle medical malpractice cannot see your question.
You can't be refused actual emergency care. That's because the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires that any hospital that takes Medicare or Medicaid must check you for emergent conditions and treat them if they exist. Since nearly every hospital in the country takes federal funds from one of these programs, nearly all hospitals are subject to EMTALA.
But "emergency medical condition" has a pretty narrow definition. It includes active labor for women and acute conditions that would cause death, serious bodily organ harm or serious bodily function impairment if they were not treated right away.
Few situations meet that test (and the fact that you deliberately left out WHY you were at the ER tells us that you went there for a non-life threatening situation or surely you would have mentioned it). You can't get preventive care in the emergency department. You can't get screened for a host of disorders. You can't get treatment for your depression there or really for any chronic mental disorders. You can't get help with your child's autism, ADHD or developmental delay. And even if you could, it wouldn't be free.
If the patient does not have an "emergency medical condition", the statute imposes no further obligation on the hospital.
The statute does not prohibit an inquiry into availability of medical insurance; it does provide that neither examination nor treatment may be delayed to make the inquiry as to the existence of an emergency.
If there had been a violation, a hospital may be held liable to an injured person in a civil action for damages under the statute, with no maximum on the liability. Unlike a number of other Federal statutes enabling a civil remedy, there is no provision for an award of attorneys' fees to a successful plaintiff.