Metro Weekly

Senate Democrats demand answers from HHS on health care protections

Democrats say the government should take steps to protect LGBTQ health care consumers from discrimination

Sen. Patty Murray, Photo: Facebook

A group of 15 U.S. senators has sent a letter to Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price asking whether he intends to enforce nondiscrimination protections contained in the Affordable Care Act.

The section of the Affordable Care Act at issue, known as Section 1557, prohibits medical providers and insurers from discriminating against health care consumers on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability.

Under the Obama administration, a new rule was passed that prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sex, gender identity, or against women who had received abortions.

Social conservatives, including appointees to the Department of Health and Human Services like Roger Severino, Charmaine Yoest, and Valerie Huber, have been on the warpath against the Obama-era rule since its approval last year. They argue that having to provide care to transgender people or women who have had abortions — even if it’s deemed medically necessary — violates the conscience rights of health care providers, employers, or insurers who have religious or moral objections to such procedures.

That Obama-era rule was halted from taking effect by a federal judge. The Trump administration has decided not to appeal that ruling. Additionally, HHS has deleted language from a “Frequently Asked Questions” section of its website regarding the enforcement of Section 1557. That language had specifically stated that discrimination based on “sex” applies to situations where health care consumers are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In light of these developments, the group of senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is now asking Price to explain in detail what his plans are for enforcing the nondiscrimination protections contained in Section 1557.

“The Department’s removal of language indicating support for prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination as a matter of policy would be disturbing on its face alone, but it is especially concerning given the divisive and harmful rhetoric that President Trump has used and encouraged,” the letter to Price reads.

Specifically, the senators ask Price to answer whether he agrees that discrimination based on stereotypical ideas about gender constitutes sex discrimination and if HHS intends to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The senators have requested that Price respond to their letter by Aug. 25 and before HHS makes any changes to the existing Section 1557 regulations.

“While Republicans in Congress have indicated a willingness to work on a bipartisan basis to improve health care, President Trump has continued to suggest he will sabotage health care for families across the country,” the letter concludes.

“As Secretary of HHS, we ask that you work to ensure your agency respects all people, and continues to serve everyone, including women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, people who communicate in a language other than English, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and people of all religious backgrounds and beliefs, rather than roll back discrimination protections.”

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