A US federal judge refused to rule on whether the man who opened fire at president Ronald Reagan should be freed, ordering a psychiatric hospital to submit a new plan.

US District Judge Paul Friedman gave the hospital until October 19 to disclose its plan for John Hinckley, who has been held there for 30 years.

"The government further suggested that the hospital will now need to begin anew to develop a new plan," he said.

Friedman held a lengthy set of hearings on the plan that ended in February.

The judge has been reviewing Hinckley's case to decide whether to expand the conditional release rights of the 57-year-old man, who was declared insane during a 1982 proceeding. He lives at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington.

Hinckley wounded Reagan in 1981, shooting him in the chest to impress actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed.

Since 2009, he has been granted 10 consecutive days per month of freedom to visit his mother. His lawyers asked that Hinckley's release rights be expanded first to 17 days, then 24 days per month.

Eventually, his doctors want him to be released permanently to live as an outpatient with his mother.

"At this point, the ball is in the hospital's court. It can either withdraw its pending proposal and submit an entirely new plan," the judge added.

Friedman also rejected a request from Hinckley's lawyers because of his family's inability to continue paying their fees, saying it would not be fair to their client.

But the attorneys "are most familiar with the filings in this matter, including the voluminous expert reports, with the other relevant documents, and with the extensive testimony to date," the judge wrote.

"Until the court resolves the pending petition, it would be prejudicial to Mr Hinckley to permit counsel to withdraw, and it would not be in the interests of justice to do so."