07.08.20

Murray, HELP Dems to Azar: Rescind Rule Undermining Health Care Protections, Including for LGBTQIA+ Patients, In Light of New SCOTUS Decision

In Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-sex discrimination law covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation

 

In new letter, HELP Dems urge Azar to rescind harmful rule rolling back protections for LGBTQIA+ patients under Section 1557 of the ACA because it conflicts with Supreme Court precedent

 

Democrats: “The Department’s rule conflicts with statutory text and is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent because it allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

 

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led nine Democrats on the HELP Committee in demanding that Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar rescind his harmful rule excluding LGBTQIA+ patients from the anti-discrimination protections of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming that sex discrimination protections include protection for the LGBTQIA+ community.

 

“In Bostock, the Supreme Court stated unequivocally that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity necessarily entails discrimination based on sex,’” wrote the Senators in a letter to Secretary Azar. “Not only does eliminating health care protections for transgender patients run contrary to the ACA’s broad goal of expanding health care to all people, it also conflicts with Supreme Court precedent. The federal government must follow the letter of the law and the Court’s interpretation of that law. … Given the barriers transgender patients face to accessing high-quality, affordable health care, it is shameful the Department would work to make it even more difficult for transgender patients to get the care they need, particularly during a global pandemic and public health emergency.”

 

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court held that the definition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes discrimination based on a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. But the definition of “sex” used in Secretary Azar’s harmful rule runs contrary to this reasoning, misinterpreting and mischaracterizing the definition of “sex” as only “explicitly binary terms such as ‘male and female.’” Because the federal government must follow the letter of the law—and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of that law—the Senators demanded that the rule be rescinded immediately.

 

The Senators also noted that the rule would deeply impact transgender patients’ ability to access care—which is particularly worrying in the midst of a pandemic. A survey showed that approximately 25 percent of transgender patients surveyed report problems with insurance coverage as a result of their gender identity and 23 percent did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person. These challenges would only be compounded by Secretary Azar’s harmful and unlawful rule.

 

In addition to Senator Murray, the letter was signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

 

The full letter is below and HERE.

 

July 7, 2020

 

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20201

 

Dear Secretary Azar,

 

We write to urge you to immediately reverse the rule finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or the Department) under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on June 19, 2020.[1] At the time it was finalized, and as stated in a letter sent to you by many of us who are signed onto this letter, the rule operated under a flawed and discriminatory definition of “sex” that excluded transgender patients from protections under the ACA. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 15 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which held that the definition of sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,[2] the Department’s rule misstates and mischaracterizes the definition of “sex.” As the Court explained in Bostock, because “an employer who fires an individual for being [gay] or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex . . . [s]ex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision” to fire someone for being gay or transgender.[3]  The textual analysis that the Supreme Court relied on in concluding that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination motivated by gender identity or sexual orientation applies with equal force to Section 1557. Consequently, the Department’s rule conflicts with statutory text and is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent because it allows discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The rule also encourages discrimination by attempting to limit the scope of Section 1557, undermining reproductive rights, and reducing requirements around language access services. We demand you immediately reverse this harmful, unlawful rule.

 

The protections guaranteed under Section 1557 are critical to preventing discrimination against transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people who face significant barriers to accessing quality, affordable health care. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, approximately 25 percent of people surveyed reported problems with insurance coverage as a result of their gender identity.[4] The survey reported that approximately 27 percent of survey respondents were denied health care due to being transgender.[5]Around one-third of those who saw a health care provider in 2015 reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender, such as being refused treatment, verbally harassed, or physically or sexually assaulted, or having to teach the provider how to provide transgender patients with appropriate care.[6] Twenty-three percent of respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person.[7] Transgender people continue to face significant challenges and discrimination on the basis of their gender identity in accessing and receiving health care.

 

In Bostock, the Supreme Court stated unequivocally that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity necessarily entails discrimination based on sex.[8] The first cannot happen without the second.[9] The final rule misinterprets the definition of “sex” to use only “explicitly binary terms such as ‘male and female.’”[10] Not only does eliminating health care protections for transgender patients run contrary to the ACA’s broad goal of expanding health care to all people, it also conflicts with Supreme Court precedent. The federal government must follow the letter of the law and the Court’s interpretation of that law. There is no justification for eliminating protections for transgender patients under Section 1557. Given the barriers transgender patients face to accessing high-quality, affordable health care, it is shameful the Department would work to make it even more difficult for transgender patients to get the care they need, particularly during a global pandemic and public health emergency.

 

We urge you reverse the final Section 1557 rule and instead work to affirmatively protect the rights of all individuals, including LGBTQIA+ people, who seek access to health care.

 

Sincerely,

 

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[1] https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-06-19/pdf/2020-11758.pdf

[2] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf

[3] Id.

[4] https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf

[9] Id.

[10] https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/06/14/2019-11512/nondiscrimination-in-health-and-health-education-programs-or-activities