NU Online News Service, July 13, 2:30 p.m. – More than 500 hospitals in nearly every state were cited in the late 1990s for “dumping patients” — illegally screening patients with medical emergencies or refusing to treat them, finds a report by Public Citizen Washington, a corporate watchdog group.

Most of the 527 hospitals named in the Public Citizen report were cited for breaking the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, the legislation that guarantees patients the right to be treated at the nearest available hospital.

Up to a third of surveyed emergency room registration staff recently told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General that patients might be asked for insurance information before a screening is provided or while it is taking place, and 35 percent said they contact health plans for authorization of screening exams at some point. These actions violate the law if they delay treatment.

While the records it has reviewed don’t reflect the reason a patient was dumped, the group concludes that hospitals dump patients when they are uninsured.

Despite the law prohibiting emergency room personnel from delaying screening or treatment to ask whether a patient has insurance, personnel still do, the report claims. Further, some HMOs require pre-authorization for exams or treatment, and some HMOs refuse to pay for emergency room treatment later if the patient is found not to have a condition that constitutes an emergency. This often means the hospital gets stuck with the bill, providing hospitals with a deadly incentive to dump uninsured or poor patients, the report claims.

The report is available on Public Citizen’s Web site at http://www.citizen.org