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Examining EMTALA in the era of the patient protection and Affordable Care Act

1 Department of Health Management and Policy, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, 3215 Market Street, Nesbitt Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
2 Department of Health Management and Policy, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, 3215 Market Street, Nesbitt Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
3 Department of Health Management and Policy, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, 3215 Market Street, Nesbitt Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
4 Department of Health Services Administration, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, 4200 Valley Dr # 2242, College Park, MD 20742, USA
5 Department of Health Policy and Management, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, 950 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA
6 Department of Health Management and Policy, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, 3215 Market Street, Nesbitt Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

Background: Little is known regarding the characteristics of hospitals that violate the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This study addresses this gap by examining EMTALA settlements from violating hospitals and places these descriptive results within the current debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Methods: We conducted a content analysis of all EMTALA Violations that resulted in civil monetary penalty settlements from 2002–2015 and created a dataset describing the nature of each settlement. These data were then matched with Thomson Healthcare hospital data. We then present descriptive statistics of each settlement over time, plot settlements by type of violation, and provide the geographic distribution of settlements. Results: Settlements resulting from EMTALA violations decreased from a high of 46 in 2002 to a low of 6 in 2015, a decline of 87%. Settlements resulting from violations most commonly occurred for failure to screen and failure to stabilize patients in need of emergency care. Settlements were most common in hospitals in the South (48%) and in urban areas (74%). Among Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) with a violation, the majority (62%) were located in the South or in urban areas (65%). Violating hospitals incurred annual settlements of $31,734 on average, for a total $5,299,500 over the study period. Conclusions: EMTALA settlements declined prior to and after the implementation of the ACA and were most common in the South and in urban areas. EMTALA’s status as an unfunded mandate, scheduled cuts to DSH payments and efforts to repeal the ACA threaten the financial viability of safety-net hospitals and could result in an increase of EMTALA violations. Policymakers should be cognizant of the interplay between the ACA and complementary laws, such as EMTALA, when considering changes to the law.
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© 2018 the Author(s), licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

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