Hospitals could have more responsibility to care for the indigent if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with a Kentucky woman and her guardian in a "patient dumping" case.
The high court heard oral arguments last week in the 1993 case of Wanda Johnson, who claims she was illegally transferred to a nursing home because she did not have health insurance and likely could not pay her ballooning hospital bills (June 15, p. 17).
The arguments in Johnson's case were supposed to focus on whether a patient suing under the 1986 federal anti-dumping law had to prove that the actions of a hospital or physician stemmed from an improper motive.
But the case took a turn when the hospital under fire, 269-bed University of Louisville (Ky.) Hospital, suddenly conceded that federal law does not require patients like Johnson to meet that burden of proof.
Instead, the hospital argued that the law does not apply outside of an emergency room setting.
The hospital urged the high court to rule that Johnson did not have an emergency condition when she was transferred to an Indianapolis nursing home. That would mean the hospital could not have dumped her.
The court is expected to rule on the Johnson case by July 1999.