Under the terms of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Work Act (“EMTALA), a hospital cannot refuse medical treatment of a patient if it is an emergency, regardless of whether the patient is insured or not. Of course, there are inappropriate reasons why a hospital may deny you treatment. A hospital cannot deny you treatment because of your age, gender, religious affiliation, and certain other characteristics. In certain situations, a doctor may refuse to treat a patient.
However, doctors cannot refuse to treat patients who need immediate care. Emergency care physicians, for example, have a legal obligation to treat anyone who comes in front of them. Both public and private hospitals are prohibited by law from denying care to a patient in the event of an emergency. The Emergency Medical and Treatment Work Act (EMTLA) passed by Congress in 1986 explicitly prohibits denial of care to indigent or uninsured patients due to lack of ability to pay.
It also prohibits unnecessary transfers while care is being administered and prohibits suspension of care once it starts, provisions that avoid leaving patients who cannot pay in other hospitals. Treating indigent and uninsured patients places a huge financial burden on the health system, especially in areas where public hospitals are not available. In addition, when a hospital or medical provider disagrees with the decision to refuse medical treatment, the State of Florida can file a lawsuit to compel medical treatment. If you go into labor and the nearest hospital is privately run, the EMTLA requires that the hospital admit the woman regardless of her ability to pay, since childbirth is considered an emergency situation.