You have rights in an emergency room under EMTALA

You have rights in an emergency room.
It's the law. 

Doctor talking to a patient

You have these protections:

  1. An appropriate medical screening exam to check for an emergency medical condition, and if you have one,
  2. Treatment until your emergency medical condition is stabilized, or
  3. An appropriate transfer to another hospital if you need it

The law that gives everyone in the U.S. these protections is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, also known as "EMTALA." This law helps prevent any hospital emergency department that receives Medicare funds (which includes most U.S. hospitals) from refusing to treat patients.

This means that a hospital emergency department must:

Illustration of a female medical professional. She has brown skin and is wearing a  medical coat while walking.

1. Give you an appropriate medical screening exam

A qualified professional must check you for an emergency medical condition

When you check in, the hospital can ask you about health insurance, as long as it doesn't delay your exam or treatment. The hospital must offer you this screening exam, even if you don't have insurance.

Illustration of a pregnant woman. She has brown skin and is hugging her middle.

2. Treat you until your condition is stable

If you have an emergency medical condition, which can include experiencing contractions, the hospital must offer to treat this condition so that it does not materially worsen.

Illustration of a man walking. He has white hair and brown skin.

3. Transfer you if necessary

If your emergency medical condition can't be stabilized by the staff and facilities available, the hospital must offer to provide an appropriate transfer to a hospital that has the staff and facilities available to stabilize your emergency medical condition.

Before transferring you, the hospital must explain the benefits and risks.

EMTALA exists to help you get the emergency care you need in a hospital emergency department.

Anyone with an emergency medical condition must be offered treatment to stabilize that condition. "Stabilized" means your condition is unlikely to get materially worse.

Watch a video about EMTALA

"Emergency department" refers to a hospital department or facility that:

  • Provides emergency care if you walk in without an appointment,
  • Has signs posted saying it provides emergency care, and
  • Receives Medicare funds.

How to file a complaint

If you believe your EMTALA rights have been violated, you can file a complaint. This helps to make sure the health care system is safe for everyone.

File a complaint

Federal laws help protect you from unfair treatment and discrimination

Have you been denied treatment to stabilize your emergency medical condition in a hospital emergency department?

Because of EMTALA, you can't be denied a medical screening exam or treatment for an emergency medical condition based on:

  • If you have health insurance or not
  • If you can pay for treatment
  • Your race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or age
  • If you aren't a U.S. citizen

Learn how to file an EMTALA complaint.

Have you experienced unfair treatment or discrimination in a non-emergency health care setting?

In addition to EMTALA, other federal laws help protect you from unfair treatment and discrimination. You can file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services if the discrimination happened in the past 6 months.

Page Last Modified:
06/05/2024 04:15 PM