HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

EMTALA and the Free Rider Problem

This tragic case may interest those who teach EMTALA: 

[Anna Brown] yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary's Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn't stand. She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle. This time, she refused to leave.

A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up. . . . She told officers she couldn't get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

For some context, here is an excerpt from a column from Steven Pearlstein on a far more noted battle last week: 

[T]he solicitor general and several justices tried to make the obvious point that one reason so many Americans lack health insurance is that the market is inherently unlike any other in that we don’t deny medical care to sick people who can’t pay for it. It is from this anomaly that springs the “individual mandate,” a requirement that all citizens buy health insurance, to prevent them from becoming free-riders on a system paid for by others.

Rather than wrestling with this obvious anomaly, however, Scalia and Alito simply [blamed] the government for creating the problem in the first place by obligating hospitals to treat the sick even if they are uninsured and cannot pay for the care.

As the case of Anna Brown shows, there are many ways to "solve" the free rider problem. [FP]

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/healthlawprof_blog/2012/04/emtala-fact-pattern.html

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