WASHINGTON - (AP) - President Barack Obama is issuing a directivehe says will make it easier for hospital patients, particularlygays and lesbians, to receive visitors and choose who will makemedical decisions on their behalf.

Obama is asking the Health and Human Services secretary to beginthe process of putting in place federal rules to ensure thathospitals respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. Theorder covers hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid.

Under Obama's directive, those designated, including people withpowers of attorney and health care proxies, are to have visitationprivileges equal to immediate family members.

Obama says gays and lesbians and other Americans have beenbarred from the bedsides of their partners or loved ones.