EMTALA flexibility proposed to relieve on-call MD shortages

In a new Medicare hospital payment rule released in late April, CMS included a proposal clarifying its on-call policies under EMTALA. If finalized, the proposal would let a group of hospitals in a region designate one of them as the on-call site for a specific time period or service, rather than each struggling to keep up on-call coverage. For example, two hospitals could agree that for half of the month, one hospital would be the official on-call facility, while the other would serve that role for the second half.

In making such a proposal, CMS hopes to address the steadily worsening problem hospitals face with finding adequate on-call coverage by specialists. In 2005, the most recent year for which survey data was available, 73 percent of ED directors reported to the American College of Emergency Physicians that they were having trouble making on-call arrangements.

Regardless of what arrangements they made, individual hospitals with emergency departments would still be required to do a standard medical screening exam and have a plan for how to proceed if an on-call physician wasn't available. CMS wouldn't give preapproval to plans, but would review each plan if EMTALA violations arose after those plans were put in place. (The lack of pre-approval seems to me like a glaring problem--everyone wants a safe harbor determination in place when weighty federal violations may be in the offing-but we'll see, I suppose.)

To learn more about the EMTALA plan:
- read this AMNews article

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