New policy for hospitals puts patients at risk

In a move that is sure to have far-reaching effects for students and low-income families across the United States, the Bush Administration has agreed to reduce the amount of emergency care hospitals are required to provide. The new law, which takes effect on Nov. 10, will reduce the number of specialists hospitals require to be on call. This will cut the number of patients, regardless of injury, they are required to treat.

According to a New York Times article published on Wednesday, the law will replace one passed in 1986 that required hospitals with emergency departments to have a certain number of specialists on call. The old law made the treatment of people requiring immediate attention mandatory. Under the new ruling, hospitals can now turn away a patient regardless of his or her condition.

The Bush Administration said the reason for the new law is to reduce the liability of hospitals and doctors. The law will make it more difficult for patients who receive substandard care to make a case and perhaps collect money for damages. It will also limit the amount of people who go to emergency rooms to get help. While overcrowded ERs are a concern for hospitals and patients, people declining to visit ERs for fear of being turned away is likely to have dire consequences.

Doctors and hospitals have been feeling the economic and qualified labor shortage pinch lately. Hospitals are dangerously in need of nurses, and doctors are reeling from the astronomical price of malpractice insurance. To limit the amount of care an emergency room can or should provide is not the way to curb these problems. Emergency rooms were created to provide immediate care and relief to people who need it. Now, by giving hospitals the ability to turn people away, the government is allowing a dismal nationwide healthcare crisis to worsen.