EMTALA: All Bark and No Bite

In the modern era of managed healthcare, the number of indigent and uninsured patients continues to rise, placing greater strain on hospi-tals to provide adequate treatment to patients requiring emergency medi-cal care. In response, Congress enacted the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) in 1986 in an effort to pre-vent hospitals from denying emergency medical treatment as a way of cutting costs. EMTALA was intended to guarantee health care access to all. In practice, however, EMTALA’s functionality has been diminished by ineffective monitoring and enforcement and a lack of uniformity among courts interpreting the statute. This note delves into the myriad problems plaguing EMTALA’s effectiveness as a deterrent to patient dumping by focusing on the statute’s amended regulations which became effective in November 2003. After an analysis of the weakening effect the amended regulations have on access to health care, the author concludes that courts must make an effort to increase the burden of proof hospitals must meet in order to avoid compliance with EMTALA. In addition, the author advances the proposition that Congress needs to reexamine the conundrum of providing emergency medical treatment to the poor and, accordingly, amend EMTALA to better achieve Congress’s original in-tent.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.