Complying with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA): Challenges and solutions

Charleen Hsuan, Jill R. Horwitz, Ninez A. Ponce, Renee Y. Hsia, Jack Needleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which requires Medicare-participating hospitals to provide emergency care to patients regardless of their ability to pay, plays an important role in protecting the uninsured. Yet many hospitals do not comply. This study examines the reasons for noncompliance and proposes solutions. We conducted 11 semistructured key informant interviews with hospitals, hospital associations, and patient safety organizations in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services region with the highest number of EMTALA complaints filed. Respondents identified 5 main causes of noncompliance: financial incentives to avoid unprofitable patients, ignorance of EMTALA's requirements, high referral burden at hospitals receiving EMTALA transfer patients, reluctance to jeopardize relationships with transfer partners by reporting borderline EMTALA violations, and opposing priorities of hospitals and physicians. Respondents suggested 5 methods to improve compliance, including educating subspecialists about EMTALA, informally educating hospitals about borderline violations, and incorporating EMTALA-compliant processes into hospital operations such as by routing transfer requests through the emergency department. To improve compliance we suggest (1) more closely aligning Medicaid/Medicare payment policies with EMTALA, (2) amending the Act to permit informal mediation between hospitals about borderline violations, (3) increasing the hospital's role in ensuring EMTALA compliance, and (4) expanding the role of hospital associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-41
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of healthcare risk management : the journal of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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