Biden Administration restores protections against discrimination in healthcare for LGBTQ Americans
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will interpret and enforce Section 1557 sex discrimination protections to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Section 1557 is the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in all health programs receiving federal funding, and in ACA marketplace insurance plans. The Obama Administration issued a rule for implementing Section 1557 that clarified that the sex discrimination protections include discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping. The Trump Administration then finalized its own Section 1557 rule removing the inclusion and enforcement of the gender identity and sex stereotyping nondiscrimination provisions.
These nondiscrimination protections are critical and necessary as LGBTQ people still encounter widespread stigma and discrimination in accessing healthcare. A 2020 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress to better understand LGBTQ people’s experiences with discrimination amidst the global pandemic found that more than 1 in 10 LGBTQ Americans reported experiences of discrimination by a healthcare provider in the past year. These rates of discrimination were even higher for transgender people and LGBTQ people of color. Experiences of discrimination also deterred LGBTQ Americans from seeking necessary medical care: 15% of LGBTQ respondents overall, and 28% of transgender respondents specifically, reported avoiding medical care when they were sick or injured due to fear of discrimination. As our country continues to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, all people should feel safe accessing the healthcare that they need to survive.
We are pleased to see that the Biden Administration recognizes the importance of addressing LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare in order to advance health equity and eliminate LGBTQ health disparities. This new HHS policy restores gender identity nondiscrimination protections and adds explicit sexual orientation protections for LGBTQ Americans accessing healthcare. While we know that these protections alone will not stop all acts of discrimination from happening, they provide important options for recourse and justice for LGBTQ Americans who do experience discrimination. If you experience discrimination in healthcare on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, you can file a complaint with OCR here.