June 22, 2020
“Health care systems should be safe places for everyone to seek care; where people’s identities are affirmed, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, national origin, or other characteristic.” – Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health
Washington, D.C. – Today, Lambda Legal and Steptoe & Johnson LLP filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published health care discrimination rule that purports to carve out LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations from the protections of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, among other bases. The lawsuit, Whitman-Walker Clinic v. HHS, is filed on behalf of Whitman-Walker Health, the TransLatin@ Coalition and its members (including leaders of affiliated organizations like Arianna’s Center in Florida), Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists, and four individual doctors.
“This rule is antithetical to Whitman-Walker’s core values. Health care systems should be safe places for everyone to seek care; where people’s identities are affirmed, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, national origin, or other characteristic,” said Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health. “The federal government should be a partner in addressing the repeated violence perpetrated against Black and brown communities, against immigrants, and against transgender people, and today’s action is about holding the administration accountable for the safety, well-being and civil rights of our communities.”
“While HHS’s health care discrimination rule cannot change the law, it creates chaos and confusion where there was once clarity about the right of everyone in our communities, and specifically transgender people, to receive health care free of discrimination,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist for Lambda Legal. “Today, Lambda Legal, a broad coalition of LGBTQ groups, and the people our clients serve say ‘enough’ to the incessant attacks from the very agency charged with protecting their health and well-being. For years, the Trump administration has utilized HHS as a weapon to target and hurt vulnerable communities who already experience alarming rates of discrimination when seeking care, even now, during a global pandemic. Their actions are wrong, callous, immoral and legally indefensible. We will fight back.”
In 2016, the Obama administration finalized a rule implementing the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act—also known as Section 1557—that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, transgender status, or sex stereotypes as forms of sex discrimination.
In May 2019, however, the Trump administration announced a proposed rule change designed to roll back these protections, and notwithstanding that multiple federal courts—including most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court—have interpreted sex discrimination protections to protect LGBTQ people. The proposed rule would carve-out LGBTQ people from the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections, and invite health care workers, doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide or cover health care services critical to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ people, such as gender-affirming and reproductive care. The proposed rule would also limit the remedies available to people who face health disparities, limit the access to health care for people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), and dramatically reduce the number of health care entities and insurance subject to the rule.
On Friday, June 19, 2020, HHS published the health care discrimination rule, which is scheduled to go into effect August 18, 2020.
Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Counsel Karen Loewy, Senior Attorney Jamie Gliksberg, and Staff Attorney Carl Charles are joined by Steptoe’s Laurie Edelstein, Michael Vatis, Khristoph Becker, Johanna Dennehy, and Laura Lane-Steele as counsel on the case.
Read the Complaint: bit.ly/wwhreadhhscomplaint
Whitman-Walker operates a community-centered enterprise that provides primary medical care, behavioral health care, dental care, and a range of health-related legal and support services, with specialties in LGBTQ+ and HIV care, to more than 20,000 individuals and families annually in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan region. The Whitman-Walker Institute was established to support the needs of our patients, and the communities at the heart of our mission, with research, public policy advocacy, and clinical and community education under one roof. Learn more at whitmanwalkerimpact.org.
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