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EMTALA, The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act

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Updated June 26, 2014

Definition: In 1986, the U.S. federal government passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This act requires any hospital that accepts payments from Medicare to provide care to any patient who arrives in its emergency department for treatment, regardless of the patient's citizenship, legal status in the United States or ability to pay for the services. EMTALA applies to ambulance and hospital care.

EMTALA was developed to combat "patient dumping," the practice of refusing to treat people who did not have the ability to pay for healthcare services. It guarantees those with insufficient means to get medical help.

EMTALA is contained within the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and falls under the auspices of CMS, the Center for Medicare Services.

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