Over 100 Democrats signed a letter to the White House this week urging the Trump administration to reject a proposal to roll back transgender health care protections.
In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Reps. Julia Brownley (D-S.C.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) claim that removing nondiscrimination rules preventing bias against trans people in federally funded health centers “will put individuals’ lives and health in danger.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in April it would be reviewing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a set of protections intended to prevent bias on the basis of “race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability” in federally funded health centers.
HHS claimed in 2016 it would interpret the definition of sex discrimination to include “discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” which could include “medically necessary” care like hormones and gender confirmation surgery.
After U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas issued a temporary injunction against the rule in December 2016, the Trump administration elected not to defend Section 1557saying it would reconsider the policy. The U.S. Justice Department noted in April that HHS “had submitted a draft of a proposed rule” on the Obama-era guidelines but did not state whether the office would nix Section 1157 altogether.
However, critics say Trump’s White House already telegraphed its intent by excising language around sexual orientation and gender identity from the “Frequently Asked Questions” webpage on the nondiscrimination rule.
Congressional Democrats expressed concern that recent moves by the administration are intended to create a “religious exemption” to the law.
“Adding any type of religious exemption, or enforcing the Health Care Rights Law in a way that allows for a religious exemption, is antithetical to the purpose and language of the Health Care Rights Law and would undermine Congress’ lawmaking authority,” the letter says.
Such an exemption would “allow health care providers to discriminate against their patients,” the document adds.
The White House signaled its intent to discriminate by announcing earlier this year it would be reorganizing HHS to create the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. As INTO previously reported, the office is tasked with defending the right of medical providers to deny care against LGBTQ people if they cite faith-based objections.
In a statement, Nadler claims that removing gender identity protections negates the reason the ACA was passed to begin withit’s intended to ensure all Americans can safely access medical care without prejudice.
“No one should be denied health care because of who they are,” he says. “In passing the Affordable Care Act, Congress was clear: insurance companies and health care providers may not discriminate against women or members of the LGBTQ community. The dangerous proposed rule undermines those critical protections and puts millions of lives at risk.”
Brownley added that rolling back Section 1557 would “open the door for health care providers and insurance companies to deny individuals care based on their personal beliefs, which would threaten women and LGBTQ individuals across the nation.”
“Discrimination has no place in health care,” she said in a press release, “and the OMB must reject this harmful proposal immediately.”
Research shows the LGBTQ community, particularly trans individuals, already experiences extreme bias in health care settings. In a 2015 survey from the National Center for Trans Equality, a third of transgender people had been discriminated against, harassed, or refused care by a medical provider within the past year.
But further fueling this intolerance is par for the course for a presidency that has consistently rolled back LGBTQ protections, Lee says.
“Once again, this Administration is jeopardizing our most basic health care rights and putting the lives of the already vulnerable at further risk,” she claims in a statement. “Make no mistake: this Health and Human Services proposal is a license for health care providers to discriminate against women and LGBTQ Americans.”
“This proposal is not just hateful, it’s dangerous,” Lee continues.
The letter is addressed to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. Earlier this month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar claimed he was not aware of a proposal to remove the Section 1557 protections related to gender identity.
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