A section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that protects against sexual discrimination will also apply to transgender people, according to a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In response to a request from a dozen LGBT organizations sent to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in June, the department clarified an antidiscrimination provision of "Obamacare," stating flatly that it also applies to gender identity.
Leon Rodriguez, director of the Office for Civil Rights of HSS, wrote in his response, first obtained by BuzzFeed, that HHS agrees that under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, "sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity."
Rodriguez also stated that his office would accept complaints for investigation if transgender patients are denied access or face any other form of discrimination by a federally funded health service or program.
In the letter sent to HHS in June, signed by 12 organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the department was reminded of discrimination that persists against the LGBT community in the health care sector and urged action.
Citing multiple studies, the groups wrote that it was "clear that LGBT people face high levels of discrimination in the provision of health services that has a substantial impact on individual and public health."
The statement by Rodriguez was a major victory for transgender advocates, securing transgender people protections at hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, said the provision was a new tool to be used against anti-transgender discrimination in healthcare, but more must still be done.
"HHS affirms our position that these abuses are now clearly illegal," Keisling said in a statement. "But a law explicitly banning health care discrimination based on gender identity is the next step. Our community needs medical providers to know what their obligations are and passing a law is the strongest and clearest way to do that."
According to Maya Rupert, federal policy director for National Center for Lesbian Rights, which was among the organizations to pressure HHS for clarification, the statement from HHS was a major step in providing security for transgender Americans.
"Transgender people face severe discrimination in healthcare settings and are often denied care completely," Rupert said in a statement. "This announcement affirms that all patients in federally funded health care settings must be treated equally and may not be denied care simply because of who they are."
READ the letter from HHS here.
[Photo: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Courtesy of www.hhs.gov.)]