updated 10/31/2003 6:01:47 PM ET 2003-10-31T23:01:47

Patients could soon find it more difficult to get certain types of emergency medical care. The Bush administration is easing rules that say hospitals must examine and treat people who require emergency care, even if they’re unable to pay, according to a published report.

The new rule says hospitals need not have specialists “on call” around the clock, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The new rule takes effect Nov. 10. The newspaper says hospitals and doctors have complained that the old standards exposed them to lawsuits and encouraged people to seek free care in the emergency room.

Courts have often ruled against hospitals sued by patients who alleged they were denied care.

Patients who are turned away or refused care can still sue, but the new rule will provide a stronger defense for hospitals. One ER doctor says the new rule could make it tougher for patients to get timely access to specialists.

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