CMS proposed rule would require all hospitals to recognize gay marriage

As same-sex marriage rights expand around the country, it's time for medical facilities to follow suit when it comes to the rights of patients and their spouses, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed.

The proposed revision to the CMS patient rights regulations would "ensure that same-sex spouses in legally valid marriages are recognized and afforded equal rights" in facilities throughout the country that accept Medicare, even in states in which gay marriage is not yet legal. The current regulations leave room for hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers, mental health clinics and surgery centers to deny spousal rights to legally married gay couples if they visit a facility in a state that doesn't recognize their union, Bloomberg reported.

The regulation changes mainly concern who can legally be recognized as a patient's representative--a person who can make life-and-death decisions to authorize or stop care if the patient is unable to make those decisions. Federal regulations already mandate that Medicare and Medicaid participating facilities cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their patient visitation policies, according to CMS rule revisions made in 2011.

The impetus for the recently proposed rule change, according to the CMS proposal, is the Supreme Court decision in June 2013 that effectively gutted the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The ruling, United States v. Windsor, was a watershed moment for the gay-rights movement, leading to an avalanche of state court rulings that resulted in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia allowing same-sex marriages, CNN reports.  

As the gay-rights movement picks up steam, the healthcare industry is now a key player in the nationwide trend. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, ranks facilities via a "healthcare equality index" based on the four core values of patient non-discrimination, employee non-discrimination, equal visitation and training, according to its website. The gay-rights advocacy group says 427 facilities meet these criteria, a 101 percent increase from those responding to its survey in 2013.

The CMS proposal comes amid an industry-wide trend in which healthcare facilities strive  to provide more inclusive care for certain populations. Responding to research that highlights gaps in healthcare quality and delivery along racial, gender and socioeconomic lines, many hospitals work toward becoming "culturally competent" in order to even the playing field for all patients, FierceHealthcare reported.  

To learn more:
- check out the CMS proposal (pdf)
- read the Bloomberg article
- see the CNN infographic