Can a hospital refuse to remove a bug from my ear just because I have no health insurance?
Uninsured and Bugged
Dear Uninsured and Bugged,
A hospital cannot turn you away from the emergency room, without first determining what is wrong with you. Under federal rules called Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), the hospital has to screen and treat you whether you have insurance or not.
The treatment required, however, only needs to address your immediate, emergency needs. So, for example, the hospital would have to treat you for a heart attack that you were having in their emergency room. They would not have to arrange a heart transplant for you.
Removing a bug certainly seems like a simple operation that would be part of the emergency room care. But if the bug’s presence was not causing a medical emergency, and would require invasive surgery, it is possible that the hospital could refuse to do it.
Ask to be referred to a free or sliding-scale clinic. And don’t forget — in just a few months, you will have to pay a tax if you have no health insurance.