Just before Christmas, the Department of Health announced that effective January 23, all hospitals in the state will be required to submit their admission, reproductive, end-of-life, and nondiscrimination policies to the state and post them on their web sites. Hospitals will have 60 days to develop and post the policies. The Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) covered the issue here.
Within a week, advocates responded, saying that while the rules are a good start, they don’t go far enough. The Puget Sound Business Journal covered the response here. Separately, in a special subscriber-only article entitled “Outlook 2014 Health Care: Catholic affiliated hospitals,” the PSBJ noted that “Public response on the issue has been overwhelmingly on the side of opposition to Catholic hospitals.”
So why am I pointing to links in a business journal about these important patient rights developments?
Because this issue has multiple aspects, and one of them is that with the new rules change, major employers in Washington State will now have the opportunity to review key reproductive, LGBT, and end-of-life policies from major health providers when they make health purchasing decisions.
If you run the benefits program for a major Washington employer, it’s important that you know what each health system does and doesn’t provide before you sign off on health purchase agreements. Your employees and key advocacy groups will be watching.
Here are some of the questions you should be asking:
- What reproductive health services, including maternity care, abortion, birth control (including long-acting reversible contraceptives), and sterilization (vasectomies and tubal ligations) does your health system provide directly?
- When a woman presents with a pregnancy-related health emergency, including a miscarriage in process, do physicians have to get clearance from any “ethical” oversight committee or authority before providing medically appropriate care, including pregnancy termination?
- What are the referral policies for procedures that your health system does not provide directly? Do referrals for any reproductive health procedures the system doesn’t provide follow the standard format/procedure one would expect for a referral for any other medical service. (As an example, a whispered “you need to go to Planned Parenthood” is NOT an appropriate medical referral.)
- What are your health system’s policies with respect to a patient in a persistent, vegetative state who has executed a legal Advance Directive asking that life-sustaining measures, including artificial nutrition and hydration, be stopped in such a situation? Will your health system honor such a directive?
- Does your health system impose restrictions on physicians who might want to help patients exercise their lawful rights under Washington’s Death with Dignity Laws?
- What are your health system’s policies for accommodating same-sex spouses of patients under its care? Will your health system recognize and respect the legal rights of married same-sex patients and their spouses?
- When a woman who delivers a baby wants a tubal ligation, will she be forced to undergo a separate surgery at a nonreligious facility, resulting in unnecessary pain and suffering and far greater expense?