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At Height of COVID-19 Pandemic, Trump Administration Finalizes Anti-LGBTQ Health Care Rule

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June 12, 2020
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Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a rule change that attempts to roll back anti-discrimination protections in health care, including for LGBTQ people under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The rule does not and cannot change the law, but does cause confusion and invites health care workers, doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide or cover health care services critical to the health and wellbeing of LGBT people and everyone living with HIV, even during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that LGBTQ people experience discrimination at disproportionately higher rates when seeking medical care which, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, led to devastating health outcomes,” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney and Co-Director of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project. “The Trump administration has enshrined its discriminatory interpretation into the HHS rule book but that does not – and cannot – actually change the law. However, this is enough to cause confusion and hurt our communities, especially transgender people and people of color who already face elevated rates of discrimination in health care settings. This rule change serves no other purpose than to target and discriminate against LGBTQ people. The cruelty is the point.”

Section 1557 of the ACA was created to protect LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations, who are often turned away by health care providers and which leads many to not even seek medical care when they need it. And court after court has affirmed that the law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, protects LGBTQ patients.

“Today’s rule is a tragically failed public health policy and just flat out illegal,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist. “We will be challenging the rule because at a time when the entire world is battling a dangerous pandemic, which in the United States has infected more than 2,000,000 people and killed more than 116,000, it is critical for everyone to have ready access to the potentially life-saving health care they need. LGBTQ people need to know that they continue to have rights and Lambda Legal will fight back. If you experience discrimination when seeking health care because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status you should contact us immediately.”

Lambda Legal has been advocating for LGBTQ people during this global public health crisis. In March, we filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for refusing to enforce nondiscrimination protections for our communities in HHS-funded programs. We also helped to lead a coalition of 183 organizations that called on Congress to ensure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in any COVID-19 response.

Lambda Legal’s docket has multiple examples of LGBT people confronting discrimination and bias in accessing health care, including a lesbian couple denied infertility treatment at a women’s health clinic, a gay man whose doctor refused to write him a medical prescription and a transgender man whose hospital refused to allow his surgeon to perform a routine hysterectomy. Lambda Legal has documented hundreds of other instances of discrimination, included many described in comments opposing a proposed rule to expand health workers’ and institutions’ ability to elevate their own religious interests over the needs of their patients.