WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has finalized the process started last year and removed LGBTQ health protections, National Public Radio reported Friday evening.
“HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress,” said Roger Severino, who directs the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, in written statement announcing that the HHS rule had become final. The rule is set to go into effect by mid-August.
The administration has been working toward this since last year.
This is one of many rules and regulations put forward by the Trump administration that defines “sex discrimination” as only applying when someone faces discrimination for being male or female, and does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporters of the rule say this is a necessary reversal of Obama-era executive overreach, and will reduce confusion about the legal meaning of “sex discrimination.” Critics argue the rule could further harm an already vulnerable group — transgender people — in the midst of a pandemic and historic unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“I can’t help but wonder if the timing [of this rule] is by design so that this is something that people won’t pay attention to,” says Tia Sherèe Gaynor, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati.
The rule would overturn a previous rule that forbids health care providers who receive federal funding from discriminating against patients on the basis of their gender identity or whether they have terminated a pregnancy.
It would eliminate those protections, enabling providers to deny these groups care or insurance coverage without having to pay a fine or suffer other federal consequences.
That may mean refusing a transgender patient mental health care or gender-confirming surgery. But it may also mean denying patients care that has nothing to do with gender identity, such as a regular office visit for a bad cold or ongoing treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes.
It also appears to weaken other protections, such as those based on race or age, by limiting who must abide by the rules. The rule would scrap the Obama-era rule’s broad definition of which providers can be punished by federal health officials for discrimination.
The rule would would impact insurance coverage and access for a list of healthcare options. Coverage for abortions could be denied if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.
Lawsuits could still be brought in individual cases, but that would be a difficult path and take time.
NPR reported that the proposal last year got more than 155,000 comments. The rule that was finalized today is almost identical to the original proposal .
The rule comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the country with 2 million infected with coronavirus and more than 100,000 deaths.
Plus, it comes in the middle of Pride month. And the fourth anniversary of the Pulse massacre.
NPR reported there were still a couple of hurdles for the rule. The U.S. Supreme Court is ruling on two anti-LGBTQ discrimination cases this term. The decision could have an impact on the rule.
House Democrats have also stated their objection to the rule.
“The Administration must immediately abandon this outrageous, un-American plan and give LGBTQ individuals the reassurance that they will never be denied the health care they or their families need,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement received by NPR.
Congress could invalidate the rule with basic majorities in both houses, if they can do it within 60 days of the start of the Congressional session.
LGBTQ organizations denounced the rule.
“We urge health care providers across the country to do the right thing by providing supportive and affirming care to trans people,” Equality Illinois said in a statement. “We urge our state officials and regulators to continue ensuring Illinois is an affirming state for trans people. And we thank legal champions like Transgender Law Center and Lambda Legal for promising to take this fight into the federal courts. Health care is a human right.”
“In the midst of a global pandemic that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands, the Trump administration is allowing the most vulnerable in our community to be stripped of their protections in health care,” said Mara Keisling, executive directer of the National Center for Transgender Equality.