Obama Orders Hospitals To Let Gay Partners Visit
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
President Obama is ordering that hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid must allow the same-sex partners of their patients to visit. He also reinforces that the patients have the power to choose a same-sex partner to make health care decisions for the patient when she or he is unable to do so.
NPR's Ari Shapiro is here to talk more about the president's order.
Ari, is this policy a big change?
ARI SHAPIRO: It is. You know, some states have this policy but many do not. And this applies, as you said, to every hospital that takes Medicare or Medicaid payments, which is basically every hospital in the country, more or less. And the language in this memo is very compelling. It says: Gays and lesbians are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives, unable to be there for the person they love. So this is a substantial statement by the White House.
NORRIS: So this will have an impact on the hospital community. What impact will this have on President Obama's standing with the LGBT community?
SHAPIRO: Well, a lot of gay and lesbian organizations had expressed frustration that President Obama, they feel, is moving slowly on Don't Ask Don't Tell, on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, on other issues that are a priority for these groups.
This evening, I spoke with the former head of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Jason Schneider, and he said he thinks this will make a big difference.
Dr. JASON SCHNEIDER (Former President, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association): One person in the hospital can make a huge difference. You know, a security guard, a front desk clerk, looking at a same-sex partner and saying, you know, you don't have any right to go back there. So I think this directive gives weight to the importance of recognizing the variety and the breadth of how people define families.
SHAPIRO: And in fact, this memo applies to more than simply same-sex partners. It says that patients in hospitals can designate anyone, whether that is a cousin, a distant relative, or even just a friend, rather than the immediate family members that right now, many hospitals will only admit.
NORRIS: And help us understand, Ari, why the president is basing this order on the hospitals that receive either Medicare or Medicaid.
SHAPIRO: Well, the easy answer is because Medicare and Medicaid is a federal program that reaches into every state. So it's a way of the federal government, changing something in all 50 states. But interestingly, the history here is very much in keeping with the founding of Medicare and Medicaid.
When President Johnson created this program, he ordered that every hospital receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding admit patients of every race. And this was at a time when many hospitals were segregated. And so that change that came about through Medicare and Medicaid, all these decades later, is followed by another change that is tied to Medicare and Medicaid funding as well.
NORRIS: Thank you very much, Ari.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro.
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