The US Increases Protections for LGBTQ Individuals Against Health Care Discrimination

In a pre-Pride Month gift to LGBTQ Americans, President Biden’s administration has announced that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are now protected against discrimination from hospitals, physicians and insurance companies, effectively reversing a biased and prejudiced rule that went into effect last year during then-President Trump’s time in office.

Becky Sullivan and Selena Simmons-Duffin of NPR have reported on the Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement, which “concerns one of the most notable parts of the Affordable Care Act — the provision in Section 1557 that prevents health care providers and insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of ‘race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.’”

Effective immediately, the HHS says it is now illegal for healthcare providers to discriminate against someone “on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity in health care.”

In a statement, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences. It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

Sullivan and Simmon-Duffin reported that “officials at HHS framed the change as updating the agency’s interpretation of existing law to bring it into alignment with Bostock v. Clayton County, last year’s landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling found that LGBTQ people are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning discrimination on the basis of sex.”

Reflecting on that ruling and the Trump administration’s subsequent attempt to remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in health care, Becerra said, “The Supreme Court has made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. That’s why today HHS announced it will act on related reports of discrimination.”

The announcement from HHS comes after other federal departments issued similar rulings earlier in the year. In February 2021, the Department of Housing and Urban Development banned discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in housing, and in March 2021, the Justice Department and the Pentagon overturned Trump-era rules that banned transgender people from serving in the military.

“Our mission as the Department of Health and Human Services is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, including LGBTQ individuals and everyone,” added Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly transgender person to serve in a Senate-confirmed position. “Everyone needs access to health care. No one should be discriminated against in this. This change in rules and regulations will help us do that.”

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