Doctors May Soon Be Legally Able to Refuse to Treat Trans People

by Diana Tourjée
May 24, 2019


On Friday morning, the Department of Health and Humans Services proposed a new rule that would remove anti-discrimination protections for transgender Americans from the Affordable Care Act, asserting that discrimination on the basis of sex should not include gender identity. The department’s policy revision alters Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which granted transgender people federal protections from discrimination by federally funded healthcare providers and insurers.

In a press release Friday morning, the HHS said this move continues its mission to “vigorously enforce prohibitions of discrimination.” In a phone call with media outlets following the announcement, HHS office of civil rights director (OCR) Roger Severino brushed aside questions about how his office would ensure trans Americans have access to necessary medical care. “This rule does not go in and tell people how to practice medicine,” Severino said, adding that ridding the ACA of gender identity protections actually furthers the mandate of HHS because the original understanding of sex as written in Title IX was never meant to include gender identity. “We are going back to the plain meaning of those terms, which is based on biological sex,” Severino said.

Though Severino claims that the HHS proposed rule is in line with his office’s obligation to prevent discrimination in medicine, he admitted that federal law would no longer support legal arguments of discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federally funded health care facilities. Severino argued that this change should not be a burden on trans Americans, as it does not forbid any medical provider from offering transgender people gender-related care. “We believe in the inherent human dignity of all people,” Severino said. “HHS is here to make sure that access to healthcare is available for everyone, that’s part of our mission, to ensure that the health and well-being of all Americans is furthered, and that is not changed by this rule.”

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