[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [official website] Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [official profile] to expand the rights [memo] of patients and non-related visitors in hospitals that receive funding from Medicaid and Medicare [official websites]. The rules that Obama asked HHS to establish are designed to ensure that hospitals respect the rights of patients' advance directives, such as designating visitors and powers of attorney, and that visitors may not be denied rights for discriminatory purposes. Obama requested that HHS:
ensure that hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
Gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) [advocacy website] welcomed the order [press release] as an "important step to protect the visitation and healthcare decision-making rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people."
Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to make expanding gay rights a priority of his administration. Last month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] announced changes to the enforcement [JURIST report] of the controversial Don't Ask, Don't Tell [10 USC § 654 text; JURIST news archive] policy to make it more difficult to expel openly gay service members from the military. Obama has made clear that repealing the policy is a top priority for his administration, pledging to end it in October and reiterating his commitment [JURIST reports] in the State of the Union address. In August, a bill [S 1584 materials] aimed at banning workplace discrimination motivated by an employee's sexual orientation or gender identification was introduced [JURIST report] in the US Senate [official website]. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), if passed, would protect employees from discriminatory hiring and firing practices, and from segregation or classification on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity.