Lawsuit: uninsured emergency patient turned away

    The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania will defend itself in court against claims that the hospital turned away a patient because he didn’t have health insurance.

    A lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court alleges a Delaware man suffered from permanent brain damage from a heart attack because the University of Pennsylvania Hospital turned him away for lack of insurance. [audio: 100303kghup.mp3]

    Marcus Murray arrived at a hospital in New Jersey with an aortic tear. The hospital arranged to have him transferred to Penn for emergency surgery, but Murray was turned away. Accord to the lawsuit, a nurse wrote in Murray’s file that his lack of health insurance prompted the rejection.

    Murray’s attorney, Tom Kline, says Penn violated a federal law called EMTALA that protects people without insurance.

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    Kline: EMTALA is very specific: a hospital that has the ability to provide specialized services in an emergency situation cannot turn a patient away.

    Robert Field, a health regulation expert at Drexel Law School, says EMTALA prohibits insurance or finances from getting in the way of emergency care.

    Field: The kind of incident in this lawsuit is fortunately quite unusual. But it’s certainly not unheard of. And this happens on a smaller scale not infrequently. Patients appear at E.R.s and treatment is delayed or other financial considerations get in the way.

    Field says doctors and nurses at hospitals are well aware of the law.

    Field: Every nurse and every physician who works in a hospital is keenly aware of EMTALA and keenly aware of the requirements and the penalties. So it would take a tremendous lapse in judgment to intentionally deny treatment to an E.R. patient because of money.

    Penn Medicine’s chief of staff said in a statement that the hospital only turns away a patient when there is no capacity to treat the person and never because of insurance. She says Murray’s claims are unfounded.

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