The rules that took effect Tuesday were designed to protect gay couples, ABC News reports. But officials in the Obama administration say they will also help others in unconventional situations, from the elderly widowed to members of religious orders.
ABC said President Obama was inspired by the story of Janice Langbehn, whose partner, Lisa Pond, was hospitalized at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami in 2007. Langbehn says she was barred from Pond's bedside when she died of an aneurysm even though the couple had been together for 18 years and had three adopted children.
"Other couples, no matter how they define themselves as families, won't have to go through what we went through, and I am grateful," Langbehn said. "But the fact that the hospital didn't let our children say goodbye to their mom -- that's just something that will haunt me forever."
The federal regulations apply to all hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.