LGBTQ Clinics Sue Trump Administration Over Roll Back of Health Care Protections

People gather to see the White House illuminated with rainbow colors in commemoration of the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A group of LGBTQ clinics sued the Trump administration on Monday claiming it rolled back Obamacare protection for their clients while the country is struggling to control a pandemic.  

Filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., the 83-page complaint states the rule change came just three days before the Supreme Court handed down a significant victory for LGBTQ equality last week, ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unconstitutional. 

“To be clear, Bostock’s holding that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex forecloses HHS’s attempts to deny the full protection of Section 1557 to LGBTQ individuals and patients in health care settings,” the complaint states.

In the midst of a global pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to diminish protection from discrimination in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, the clinics joined by the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights Inc. and the Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists claim. 

The plaintiffs argue the government should be doing everything in its power to protect effective health care delivery during the novel coronavirus crisis.

“Yet, HHS is doing exactly the opposite, adopting positions that fly in the face of its stated mission to ‘enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans by providing for effective health and human services,’” the complaint states. 

Crafted over six years, an Obama-era rule worked into the Affordable Care Act had safeguarded against sex discrimination. But the revised rule released last week removes the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex from the health care reform law. 

“The elimination of this definition not only invites health care insurers and providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people seeking health care, but it also introduces substantial confusion among health care providers and insurers regarding their legal obligations and the right of the populations they serve to be free from sex discrimination, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia,” the complaint states. 

The plaintiffs argue Health and Human Services made the change “with next-to-no legal, medical, or reasoned policy foundation” and in spite of warnings from professional medical and public health organizations.

Dr. James Madara, CEO and executive vice president of the American Medical Association, wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar last year cautioning him not to proceed with the planned revision. 

“This proposal, however, is contrary to the intent and the plain language of the law. It will negatively affect patients by drastically limiting the scope of health plans to which the non-discrimination provisions apply, thereby eliminating coverage protections for certain individuals, such as transgender people, women, LGBTQ people, and individuals living with HIV,” Madara wrote. 

The complaint claims the administration essentially relied on a single federal district court ruling to justify the roll back, opening the door for “broad and sweeping exemptions” for discrimination based on personal religious or moral beliefs.

The loophole allows for health care providers and insurers to opt out of treating patients. Plus, numbers in the rule change simply do not add up, the complaint claims. 

“The Revised Rule’s cost-benefit analysis is fatally flawed, incomplete, and unreasonable. Specifically, HHS fails to account for the increased costs to patients, insurers, and the health care system at large stemming from discrimination against LGBTQ and other patients,” the complaint states. 

Represented by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Washington firm Steptoe & Johnson, the clinics and medical associations that filed suit Monday are looking to the courts to block the rule from going into effect and to vacate it as unconstitutional. 

The Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.