Hospitals would have to give equal rights to the spouses of gay and straight patients no matter where they live, as long as the marriages are legal somewhere in the country, the Obama administration said in a proposal today.
The new regulations would apply to virtually all U.S. hospitals as well as nursing homes, surgery centers, hospices and mental health clinics that accept Medicare, the U.S. insurance program for the elderly and disabled, or Medicaid, the state-federal program for low-income people.
When a patient is incapacitated by illness, for example, it can fall to a spouse to help with medical decisions. “If we do not make these revisions, our regulations would not afford equal treatment in Medicare and Medicaid participating facilities to same-sex spouses whose marriages were lawfully celebrated in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in its proposal.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional. The Obama administration, which supported the decision, has since been revising regulations across the U.S. government to ensure benefits already enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses are also available for those of the same sex.
The agency will accept comments on the proposal for 60 days before making the rules final.