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GLMA Joins Lawsuit to Block HHS Healthcare Discrimination Rule

On 6/22/20, GLMA joined a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and Steptoe & Johnson LLP, challenging the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published healthcare discrimination rule that purports to carve out transgender and LGBQ people and other vulnerable populations from the protections of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, among other bases.

The lawsuit, Whitman-Walker Clinic v. HHS, is filed on behalf of Whitman-Walker Health, the TransLatin@ Coalition and its members (including leaders of affiliated organizations like Arianna’s Center in Florida), Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists, and four individual doctors.

“No one should be turned away from healthcare simply because of who they are,” GLMA Executive Director Hector Vargas said during a virtual press conference announcing the lawsuit. “Central to GLMA’s work have been our efforts to establish accreditation standards and policies within health professional associations that prohibit discrimination in healthcare based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The healthcare discrimination rule frustrates these efforts, inviting discrimination against LGBTQ patients.”

“While HHS’s healthcare discrimination rule cannot change the law, it creates chaos and confusion where there was once clarity about the right of everyone in our communities, and specifically transgender people, to receive healthcare free of discrimination,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist for Lambda Legal. “Today, Lambda Legal, a broad coalition of LGBTQ groups, and the people our clients serve say ‘enough’ to the incessant attacks from the very agency charged with protecting their health and well-being. For years, the Trump administration has utilized HHS as a weapon to target and hurt vulnerable communities who already experience alarming rates of discrimination when seeking care, even now, during a global pandemic. Their actions are wrong, callous, immoral and legally indefensible. We will fight back.”

In 2016, the Obama administration finalized a rule implementing the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act—also known as Section 1557—that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, transgender status, or sex stereotypes as forms of sex discrimination. 

In May 2019, however, the Trump administration announced a proposed rule change designed to roll back these protections, and notwithstanding that multiple federal courts—including most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court—have interpreted sex discrimination protections to protect LGBTQ people. At the time, GLMA worked with the American Psychiatric Association to release a letter in opposition to the proposed rule signed by more than 30 health professional associations.

The proposed rule would carve-out LGBTQ people from the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections, and invite healthcareworkers, hospitals and health insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide or cover healthcare services critical to the health and well-being of LGBTQ people, such as gender-affirming and reproductive care. The proposed rule would also limit the remedies available to people who face health disparities, limit the access to healthcare for people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and dramatically reduce the number of healthcare entities and insurance subject to the rule.

On June 19, 2020, HHS published the healthcare discrimination rule, which is scheduled to go into effect August 18, 2020.

“The healthcare discrimination rule endangers the health and lives of transgender people and all sexual and gender minorities, and this rule must be blocked,” Vargas said.

Read the Complaint here: https://bit.ly/GLMA1557

GLMA is grateful to Lambda Legal and Steptoe & Johnson for representing GLMA and its members in this lawsuit, and for the partnership of all our colleagues serving as plaintiffs in this case.

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