Ask Lambda Legal—How Do New Federal Health Guidelines Protect Me as a Transgender Person?

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June 9, 2016
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M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project National Director
M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project National Director

Q: I’m a transgender man who recently moved across the country to a new state. While my previous doctor and his staff treated me with care and respect, I am anxious about finding a new office which will do the same. I’ve heard horror stories from others who have sought care and had their privacy and dignity violated in the process. As I search for the best care options, what should I know about my rights in hospitals or doctor’s offices? I understand that new federal regulations address some of these concerns, but I’m not quite sure how they protect me.

A: Medical authorities recognize that it is vital to the well-being of transgender people to live in agreement with their gender identity in each and every aspect of their lives. Hospitals and other healthcare settings aren’t excluded from this understanding, and transgender people are entitled to prompt and competent care from hospital staff and service providers, though this is not always the case.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made it explicitly clear that Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping in any hospital or health program that receives federal funds.

Healthcare discrimination is against the law, and it is important for hospitals to make clear that gender identity and gender expression are part of nondiscrimination policies. We want you to know your rights as you advocate for yourself in healthcare settings, so Lambda Legal and a team of advocates recently released a new set of transgender-affirming model policies for hospitals and healthcare providers. Read the new guidelines, Creating Equal Access to Quality Health Care for Transgender Patients: Transgender-Affirming Hospital Policies, here, and check out some highlights from the guide below.

Privacy:

Like everyone else, transgender people deserve privacy when seeking care. It is inappropriate for health care providers to invite hospital staff not involved in the patient’s care to observe the patient’s body for any reason other than legitimate training purposes. What this means is that under no circumstances should a person not directly involved in your treatment be permitted to observe or participate in examination of the patient.

Also, information about a patient’s transgender status or transition-related services that can identify a patient or can be used with other available information to identify a patient constitutes protected health information under HIPAA, the new model policies state. This protects your right to privacy and dignity.

Access to Hormone Therapy:

Not all transgender people require hormone therapy, but if you are admitted to a hospital and are currently taking hormones, that treatment should not stop unless there is a medical reason to do so. A transgender-affirming policy, according to the new model policies, acknowledges that abruptly stopping hormone therapy may result in negative physical and psychological consequences.

Protocols for Interaction with Transgender Patients:

You have the right to be referred to by the name and pronoun you use, regardless of what is on your insurance or ID.  Refusing to refer to a person by the person’s pronouns and name in use, or asking inappropriate questions about genitalia or surgical status in an effort to determine the person’s “true” gender, is a form of harassment. 

For more information on the updated guidelines, see: Creating Equal Access to Quality Health Care for Transgender Patients: Transgender-Affirming Hospital Policies (May 2016).

If you feel you have experienced discrimination in a health care setting, call our Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to http://www.lambdalegal.org/help.