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Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Orders U.S. Hospitals to Recognize Gay Relationships

Posted by on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Didn't know he could, extremely pleased he did:

President Obama mandated Thursday that hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and allow same-sex couples to share medical power of attorney, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans. The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night while he was at a fundraiser in Miami.

Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue, said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a move that covers the vast majority of the nation's health-care institutions. It is currently common policy in many hospitals that only those related by blood or marriage be allowed to visit patients.... Obama said hospitals should not be able to deny visitation privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay," Obama wrote in the memo. Affected, he said, are "gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives—unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."

Something like this will probably happen again—bigots are hateful, obstinate, and stupid—but hopefully this move by the president means there will be consequences if and when it does. And I don't know if the White House did it on purpose, but the president is in Miami tonight and it was a hospital in Miami that barred Lisa Pond's partner of 18 years, Janice Langbehn, from her bedside as Pond lay dying from a brain aneurysm in 2007. Langbehn's lawsuit was tossed out and the hospital—which has since revised its visitation policies without admitting any wrongdoing—was never punished. Now it would be.

This is a very, very positive development.

UPDATE: These details weren't in the Washington Post story when it first went up, and when I first linked to it:

Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side.

Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said. In an interview, Langbehn praised the president for his actions.

"I kept saying it's not a gay right to hold someone's hand when they die, its a human right," she said, noting that she and Pond had been partners for almost 18 years. "Now to have the president call up and say he agrees with me, it's pretty amazing, and very humbling."

Class act.


Comments (74) RSS

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Matt from Denver 1
Yay! Good news indeed.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 15, 2010 at 7:39 PM · Report this
Fantastic. We are winning, they are losing. Yay rights!!!
Posted by olechka on April 15, 2010 at 7:41 PM · Report this
This is very good news. I am so glad to see the president taking a proactive step toward helping protect the rights of GLBT people. It saddens me that it took a woman's death to bring this to fruition. I do expect, however, that closed-minded people will falsely portray this move as a socialist attempt to meddle in the health care system.
Posted by brendan on April 15, 2010 at 7:46 PM · Report this
pissy mcslogbot 4
luv the post health care fight White House memo--
"How the President got his balls back."
Posted by pissy mcslogbot on April 15, 2010 at 7:53 PM · Report this
hj 5
Although this is indeed good news, doesn't it remove one of the practical arguments for gay marriage? I sense a bone being thrown.
Posted by hj on April 15, 2010 at 7:57 PM · Report this
samktg 6
This is a step in the right direction.
Posted by samktg on April 15, 2010 at 8:09 PM · Report this
Dammit all to hell. I was just in the process of modifying my Obama for President T-shirt to read "I voted for a fierce advocate and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" and he goes and does this.

I'll put the shirt away for now, but I'm sure that I will need it in the future.

How you doing on the DOMA and DADT problems, Mr. President?
Posted by PaulBarwick on April 15, 2010 at 8:13 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 8
I was shocked and surprised that they did not have that right to begin with.

How cruel we often are...
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on April 15, 2010 at 8:28 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 9
I just noticed Obama's not an "Enemy of SLOG" anymore... when'd that happen?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on April 15, 2010 at 8:28 PM · Report this
it is humiliating that obama can satisfy us with these crumbs.
Posted by neverbeenthere on April 15, 2010 at 8:34 PM · Report this
Posted by bitter, bar-oriented, queer elder on April 15, 2010 at 8:40 PM · Report this
vooodooo84 12
@11 you can have safe space when you are dying in the hospital
Posted by vooodooo84 on April 15, 2010 at 8:43 PM · Report this
My sister is preggles with her first child and in her fourth month her partner had some medical problems and had to go to the hospital. My pregnant, freaked-out sister couldn't get any information about the status of her partner and ending up sleeping at the hospital for three days until they finally told her that her partner would be ok and that she could see her. Not telling a pregnant woman about the status of her partner and making her wait around in an unclean hospital for three days to find out? Disgusting.

Hopefully this change will go into effect before my sister's due date so that her partner has her full rights to be with her the whole way!
Posted by -ink on April 15, 2010 at 8:44 PM · Report this
Lee 14
Obama continues to impress me, honestly. A lot of people seem to expect that he would have turned the US political scene into one that looked like a small norther European country by now, but that was unrealistic all along.

We have a bill that will provide universal health care in a few years. We have DADT being called out as stupid by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We have a new nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Russia, and now we have hospital visiting rights for gay partners.

Obama is both a principled humanist and a highly skilled political realist. This is rare, and I'm beginning to believe that he may wind up being one of the greatest presidents we've ever had.

@10: It's disingenuous to say "us" when you're obviously not satisfied yourself. One thing the country's political discourse doesn't need right now is more concern trolls.
Posted by Lee on April 15, 2010 at 8:54 PM · Report this
Re Janice Langbehn: it says in the linked wapo article that Obama knew the story, and that he called Janice up to tell he about the decision.
Posted by user on April 15, 2010 at 8:59 PM · Report this
kim in portland 16
Yes it is.
Posted by kim in portland on April 15, 2010 at 9:01 PM · Report this
"Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue..."

This is how the syringe exchange ban ended up being lifted. The administration reached out to activists behind closed doors and said this is what we need you to do to make this happen. Meanwhile on Slog and elsewhere Obama was being criticized as a "farce" advocate.

This is how DADT and DOMA will fall also. Off the radar screen and through actual work.

Great news.
Posted by gnossos on April 15, 2010 at 9:15 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 18
Okay, I think this is an absolutely and totally great move, but I'm still curious: how exactly can he do this without legislation?

Like is the only reason gay partners don't have visitation rules is because the HHS has regulations against it?
Posted by doesurmindglow on April 15, 2010 at 9:18 PM · Report this
@14 "We have a bill that will provide universal health care in a few years"

Wait, what? Reform, yes. UHC, how?
Posted by unless i'm missing something... on April 15, 2010 at 9:20 PM · Report this
This is good news. However, it is still a reminder to each of us that we should always have a medical will in place that names the person we want to make the decisions for us should we ever be incapacitated. It should also out line what our wishes are in case of a family feud a la Terri Schiavo. If you're 18, then you should have this.
Posted by mimilefay on April 15, 2010 at 9:21 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 21
Way overdue.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 15, 2010 at 9:21 PM · Report this
Yes, it's nice, but it's just another little tidbit to the gays.

If you read the damn thing:

"This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person."

Simple Obama Bullshit, nothing more.
Posted by OperaBrian on April 15, 2010 at 9:22 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 23
@19 is correct.

Never doubt the competitive desires of the American people to compete on the global competitive marketplace with equal measures.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 15, 2010 at 9:23 PM · Report this
Cory 24
Posted by Cory on April 15, 2010 at 9:26 PM · Report this
@14 and @17 ... I guess what alot of people don't understand is why must BO take the "behind closed doors" aspect towards equality. BO certainly spoke very, very explicitly and very, very clearly about DOMA being "abhorrent" and DADT needing to be "repealed" during his campaign. But now that he's got the bully pulpit, everything suddenly has to be behind closed doors. Everything has to modified and diluted and, quite simply, made diffuse and confusing. It's got alot of former BO fans frustrated and feeling "less than," me among them, especially knowing that this directive to hospitals is, legally speaking, merely a very powerful suggestion. it's not law.
i'd honestly like to hear your thoughts.
Posted by nycwill on April 15, 2010 at 9:28 PM · Report this
pissy mcslogbot 26
"I kept saying it's not a gay right to hold someone's hand when they die, its a human right,"

and it's one that is so important that now, *hopefully* everyone who wants it, will be able to be there @ that ever so human moment.
Posted by pissy mcslogbot on April 15, 2010 at 9:31 PM · Report this
very bad homo 27
This is amazing news, and never would have happened with McCain/Palin in office.
Posted by very bad homo on April 15, 2010 at 9:41 PM · Report this 28
I think Obama is the shit at biding his time. This will not be his last wicked awesome maneuver. He knows how to get the most out of his political capital!
Posted by on April 15, 2010 at 9:43 PM · Report this
I don't know if you recall, sir, but the last administration's reactions to gay issues was "go f*ck yourself, but not your gay partner, you selfish degenerate!" I don't pretend the president is perfect, but to make any sort of gesture in this highly-polarized climate is significant when you consider the alternative and the fact that the political right -- which could seize power shortly -- is moving more toward extremism. You haven't heard real BS until you've heard these two words: President Palin.
Posted by Krizpie_Kreme on April 15, 2010 at 9:47 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 30
@25: I don't know, the thing with "transparency" is really that it makes the most sense when it's about public money or contracts or something like that, rather than gay equality - where process is less important than result.

I think there should have been way more transparency in the early healthcare debate, for example. But with something like this, I don't really care too much who had a say in the policy so long as it's a policy that does eventually go public and also is a step toward gay equality.

I dunno, I guess what I'm saying is that I don't know exactly how anyone would get a "shady deal" out of gay equality, though I would agree the issue could be higher profile.
Posted by doesurmindglow on April 15, 2010 at 9:57 PM · Report this
Lee 31
@25: Simply because it's easier to get elected to an office than it is use that office to effect one's will when there is strong opposition.

I think a lot of progressive people are just unwilling to recognize how strong the unreasonable wing of American politics is willing to take its opposition to common sense. Obama is not one of those people.
Posted by Lee on April 15, 2010 at 10:04 PM · Report this
Lee 32
@27: Exactly right.
Posted by Lee on April 15, 2010 at 10:05 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 33
@22 They can most certainly do it, but any hospital--since they're all private businesses--can opt out. Obama can only order this in the VA 'outright'. But if hospitals start all opting out of Medicare and Medicaid, they'll lose a TON of patients and have a TON of angry people.

Free market economics, woot woot.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on April 15, 2010 at 10:11 PM · Report this
@22: Yes, the *memo* doesn't create a private right of action to sue the government. That means that someone couldn't, for instance, sue the government tomorrow because the rule wasn't implemented yet.

You know, I'm glad to see people getting more involved in the legislative and administrative process, but it'd be nice if they actually bothered to understand what they were talking about before they convinced themselves to be disappointed.
Posted by AnonymousCoward on April 15, 2010 at 10:14 PM · Report this
@25: I can only speak with authority on the strategy behind getting the syringe exchange ban lifted. In that case Obama promised during the campaign to get the ban lifted. Soon after taking office he reached out very discretely to the activists who had spent the previous years working on the issue. The message he gave was this: the ban was imposed by Congress as a budget process, although I can lift it through Executive Order, they can simply override my order by again refusing to fund it. To fully remove the ban, we need to get Congress to undo its own work and they then laid out a plan to do it.

If this debate had been carried out in public -- or if the pro-ban faction had known what was up -- it's unlikely that the ban would have been lifted. Having a very sympathetic and process savvy President made all the difference. Team Obama know their shit. Let's hope they continue to play the smart game to get other good things to happen.
Posted by gnossos on April 15, 2010 at 10:14 PM · Report this
@14 bullshit.

A concern troll? I do not have basic human rights. Gays do not have basic human rights. That is the 'us' I'm talking about. Obama promised a lot, but has delivered little since taking office. Yes it's nice that the dying gays can have visitors in the hospital, but there are millions of gays who can still be fired for being gay, evicted from their homes because they are gay, removed from the military because they are gay. While marriage still seems like a leap to me these are the steps Obama promised to take. He hasn't taken them, and it doesn't look like he will.

A concern troll? who the hell are you?
Posted by neverbeenthere on April 15, 2010 at 10:16 PM · Report this
Lee 37
@36: I'm someone who realizes that reforms that take place overnight can be reversed overnight.

You're someone who feels maligned but has no real plan.

So, yeah, I feel comfortable calling you a concern troll. Suck it up.
Posted by Lee on April 15, 2010 at 10:24 PM · Report this
I still don't get why hospitals would ever have rules that say, "You can visit. You can't." I'm not talking about deciding who can make serious medical decisions for someone. I mean just visiting them. Being with them when they die. What's the harm in letting someone who's close to the patient visit and support them and witness what's happening to them?
Posted by Irving on April 15, 2010 at 10:32 PM · Report this
@37: Today's memo is exactly the kind of reform that can be reversed overnight. Nearly worthless.

You are also someone with fantastical understandings of healthcare reform. Universal healthcare in a few years? Give me a break.

Obama has achieved pathetic incrementalism in healthcare and much worse in gay rights. Then there is his complete fail in his unwavering embrace of bush-era assertions of executive power (warrantless searches, secrecy, assassination of U.S. citizens, etc.).

In fact, he lost me on the executive power trip -- the very reason I voted for him in the primary. And that is also why I have so little patience for his gay-rights foot dragging.
Posted by neverbeenthere on April 15, 2010 at 10:38 PM · Report this
but this only applies to legal partners, right?
Posted by puddles on April 15, 2010 at 10:52 PM · Report this
Does this take some of the wind out of the sails of the marriage movement?
Posted by JeniPeep on April 15, 2010 at 11:06 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 42
@41: Nah, not really. I mean, partner visitation rights is a major reason why gay marriage is an important right. But it's by no means the only reason.

Equality's equality, and even with long overdue visitation rights, gay equality is still a ways off.
Posted by doesurmindglow on April 15, 2010 at 11:17 PM · Report this
I love, love, LOVE that this was announced when the president was in Flor-we're-not-a-"gay-friendly"-state-ida. What a delicious FUCK YOU to those hateful scum. Style points to the president, with snaps and air kisses!!
Posted by BSRNBSN on April 15, 2010 at 11:19 PM · Report this
It's a nice gesture, no doubt. And it's certainly better than Bush or McCain (a very, very low bar, to be sure). But I'll be really impressed when he supports gay marriage. And first I'd like it if he stopped authorizing the policies and actions which are regularly blowing to bits and burning alive innocent men, women, and children in Afghanistan. When he does that, I'll think the man is worth a shit.
Posted by LJM on April 15, 2010 at 11:54 PM · Report this
@18 - it will be enforced through Medicare/Medicaid - basically, HHS will institute a rule that any hospital that gets Medicare/Medicaid funds (so... nearly all of them) will have to recognize gay partnerships or they will no longer get those funds, and thus lose all of their Medicare/Medicaid patients and a huge revenue stream.
Posted by JenV on April 15, 2010 at 11:58 PM · Report this
samktg 46
@41, Also it could do some good for the movement, because when people see that society doesn't fall apart when people get to visit their loved ones, maybe they'll figure more rights are in order.
Posted by samktg on April 16, 2010 at 12:15 AM · Report this
I'm just so happy. Seriously. This has always broken my heart about humans. FUCK YES.
Posted by Jen Graves on April 16, 2010 at 12:16 AM · Report this
I will never understand this burning need poo-poo incremental advances because they aren't the whole hog. No, hospital visitation rights are by no means even close to full equality, but it IS good and it should be RECOGNIZED as good. No, HCR is not Universal Healthcare but banning pre-existing condition denials and coverage recisions is a GOOD thing and should not be rejected because its not perfect.
Same goes for civil unions. I get that its grating as all hell to be told you can't be married but you can be civil unioned, but rejecting the posibility of civil unions because they aren't marriage is insanity! You're a lot more likely to get marriage in a state that already has civil unions and hence has a populace that has seen formalized gay couples out and about and being perfectly normal.
Just because you get visitation doesn't mean you stop fighting for full equality, but not even stopping to take a breath and say "awesome, we won something!" and instead carrying on crying about how nothing "real" is being done is demoralizing and not particularly helpful.

A thousand baby steps makes a leap.
Posted by Lynx on April 16, 2010 at 2:28 AM · Report this
Karlheinz Arschbomber 49
Will love to see the Nazi-thumpers bitch about this obvious recognition of human rights. That "not a gay right: a human right" says it all. No special deals for anybody. Especially entitled teabagger morons.
Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber on April 16, 2010 at 4:05 AM · Report this
Vince 50
Obama is a great leader. I don't care what the complainers say.
Posted by Vince on April 16, 2010 at 4:26 AM · Report this
beckysharp 51
I was so upset by the Langbehn-Pond story. At least the petty minded haters won't be able to inflict such grief on any more families.
Posted by beckysharp on April 16, 2010 at 4:59 AM · Report this

Nice to start the day with good news!
Posted by SpookyCats on April 16, 2010 at 6:16 AM · Report this
Frau Blucher 53
Though it's been said already, but no good deed should ever go unrecognized, so again, this is very good news. No. This is terrific news. A step in the right direction.
Posted by Frau Blucher on April 16, 2010 at 6:48 AM · Report this
Interesting that this same mechanism was used by L Johnson to integrate hospitals in the 60s.
Posted by woac on April 16, 2010 at 7:34 AM · Report this
Anne in MA 55
@ 48 - That sums it up quite nicely.

Moreover, even under the best circumstances - even if Obama were to come out swinging tomorrow in favor of full marriage equality rights - getting gay marriage bans rescinded throughout the country would take a substantial amount of time. This order, at least, removes one of the more cruel (and pointless) effects of being unable to get married in the meantime. That doesn't slow down progress.
Posted by Anne in MA on April 16, 2010 at 8:10 AM · Report this
doesurmindglow 56
@48: I'm actually with you. I hope, though, you didn't misunderstand me as sayin' this was a bad thing, too incremental, or somehow discouraging. I just intended to point out that it by no means "takes the wind out of the sails" of the gay marriage movement.

I actually think baby steps are what empower more change. For some reason, I tend to get into this constant "all or nothing" debate with people a lot, too. It's frustrating. The fact is that a large number of people in this country don't believe in gay equality, and that's not going to change overnight. We can't expect it to change overnight, and if we are to believe in democracy as well as justice (which I do), there's only so far we can go at any one time to bring about justice.

But moves like this one - and repealing DADT, and making hate crimes against gays illegal, and so on - gradually box in the opposition. There's fervor, hatred, and fear, to be sure, but each subsequent increment makes it harder and harder to hate people. We've come far enough already, even without equality, that most gay rights opponents can't even admit anymore that they hate gays. They know that argument is ridiculous, even internally. That's "social change."

What's important than is that we keep moving in the right direction - which, for a long time, has simply not been the case.
Posted by doesurmindglow on April 16, 2010 at 8:52 AM · Report this
A much brighter start to my day than usual. Delightful.
Posted by Faer on April 16, 2010 at 9:09 AM · Report this
@50, doing some good things while, at the same time, doing many inarguably evil things, does not a "great leader" make. While he's doing a good thing in trying to help gay couples have the same rights as straight ones (except for marriage), he's not only authorizing the violent deaths of innocent men, women, and children in Afghanistan (which doesn't really bug people so much, since it's not Americans we're killing), he's prosecuting whistleblowers while ignoring the crimes of his predecessors.…

So, sure, thumbs up on a baby step for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Now, if he can just stop killing foreign people, prosecuting whistleblowers, while fighting for increased state secrets and indefinite detentions, he might be more than a "great leader." He could be a decent human being.
Posted by LJM on April 16, 2010 at 10:26 AM · Report this
RJF 59
Fuck yeah!
Posted by RJF on April 16, 2010 at 11:28 AM · Report this
I'm thrilled he did it, but I'm not sure it's enforceable. Since when can the President "mandate" anything? All laws have to pass through Congress. Am I missing something here?
Posted by confused on April 16, 2010 at 11:43 AM · Report this
Where's Mr. "Fiercey Fraud" now? I miss him and his "i'd vote for Republicans because I want a tax break if it weren't for that one little pesky human rights issue that happens to affect me personally" rap.

Probably off in a log cabin somewhere.
Posted by Troublesome Fact on April 16, 2010 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Tomec 62
Personally, in order to buy this 'hook line and sinker' (which I don't) you got to believe that Obama wasn't aware of the Lisa Pond story (or other similar stories) until recently. Because if he knew about them previously why did he wait till now?
I am thankful for the action. Just skeptical.
I'm kind of with #10. Is this our 'crumb' for the year (2010)?
Posted by Tomec on April 16, 2010 at 1:34 PM · Report this
Dingo 63
Predictably, the homophobes are already hailing this as eliminating the need for marriage equality:…
Posted by Dingo on April 16, 2010 at 1:53 PM · Report this
I'm seeing a lot of ingratitude, here and elsewhere in the queer blogosphere, and I feel I have to speak up. I'm as disappointed as anyone at this president's failure to follow up on several key campaign promises made to the community. But I just don't understand how this news can be seen as anything but a major victory. We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good; this order isn't everything, but it's certainly something. Do I wish the president would show this kind of decisiveness on DOMA or DADT? Certainly. But that doesn't reduce my gratitude by one whit.

Oh, and one more thing? To anyone here who's called this a "crumb" or a "bone," I'd challenge you to think whether you'd say that to Janice, or to anyone else who's found themself in her circumstances. As someone who has stood at the side of a dying partner (albiet having been lucky enough that said partner was of the opposite sex), I can think of few things more horrible than what happened to her, and if this keeps it from happening to even one person, we should all count it as a victory and nothing less.
Posted by HunterJE on April 16, 2010 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Dingo 65
I think it's fairly certain that, while she may be pleased there's been a change, for Janice Langbehn and her partner and their children it's a case of too little, too late.
Posted by Dingo on April 16, 2010 at 4:24 PM · Report this
another 'crumb' ? Or, someone in Arkansas exhibits good sense (finally)…
Posted by catballou on April 16, 2010 at 6:09 PM · Report this
65 Yeah. Sorry about that.
Resurrection isn't one of my powers.

Posted by Barack Obama on April 16, 2010 at 9:00 PM · Report this
venomlash 68
@67: GOD DAMMIT, stop appearing when I'm out of booze! You're ruining my drinking game, Barack Impostor!
Posted by venomlash on April 16, 2010 at 9:06 PM · Report this
1- You're not old enough to legally drink in Illinois.
2- It's past your bedtime.
Posted by Barack Obama on April 16, 2010 at 9:20 PM · Report this
65 I'm sorry.
I should have said Fucking Cuntdrip Canadian Asshole. Don't make me send a Predator up there...
Posted by Barack Obama on April 16, 2010 at 9:25 PM · Report this
venomlash 71
@69: And yet I happily drink here in Illinois. Whoop-de-doo. Sorry to Dutch Oven on your sleepover party, Barack Impostor.
Posted by venomlash on April 16, 2010 at 10:21 PM · Report this
Kevin_BGFH 72
@60 - Actually, as the nation's Chief Executive, the President *can* do quite a lot through Executive Order. They must be intended to clarify law rather than to make new laws, but the courts have historically given the President a lot of latitude with that. Only two executive orders have ever been overturned in court. However, Congress can overturn them either through legislation or simply refusing to fund enforcement of the order. And of course, a future President can also issue a new executive order rescinding the first one.
Posted by Kevin_BGFH on April 17, 2010 at 1:50 PM · Report this
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