Jul 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

22 states and D.C. sue HHS over rollback of transgender health care protections

An LGBTQ flag is carried on a hiking trail surrounded by trees
Black Lives Matter protesters walk from Concord, Massachusetts, on June 14. Photo: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

22 states and Washington, D.C., are suhing the Department of Health and Human Services over a rule finalized in June that would make it easier for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to deny transgender people health coverage.

The big picture: The states and D.C. argue that patients won't seek medical care if they are afraid of discrimination. Many Americans are already avoiding doctors' visits during the coronavirus pandemic for financial reasons or fears of catching the virus, the New York Times reports.

Catch up quick: The agency's rollback rescinds an Obama-era rule that protected against discrimination on the basis of "gender identity" as well as sex — which allowed transgender people to be protected when seeking health care.

  • The rollback also removes language that protected those who terminated a pregnancy from sex discrimination.
  • Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign launched separate lawsuits against the rule in June.

What they're saying: The lawsuit argues that delaying care for trans people could result in higher medical costs later — some of which would fall on the states themselves in the form of "higher government-funded health care costs and increased costs of care for uninsured patients by public hospitals."

  • The lawsuit also argues that the rollback will harm women and those seeking reproductive health care, as it rescinds language under the Affordable Care Act that said sex discrimination includes pregnancy-related conditions.

The other side: "The gender identity and termination of pregnancy provisions of the 2016 rule were held unlawful and unenforceable by a federal court in December 2016 and a court vacated that language in October 2019," HHS Civil Rights Chief Roger Severino said in a statement to Axios.

  • HHS did not comment on how the new rule could affect LGBTQ people seeking health care as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Meanwhile: Advocates say that a proposed Housing and Urban Development rule, obtained by Vox last week, would harm trans and cisgender women seeking housing in federally funded homeless shelters.

  • The proposed rule would allow those shelters to "judge a person’s physical characteristics, such as height and facial hair, in determining whether they belong in a women’s or men’s shelter," Vox reports.

Go deeper: HHS rolls back Obama-era transgender health care protections

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