Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, known as the Health Care Rights Law, “prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.” A rule enacted in 2016 interpreted the ban on sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity, building on similar interpretations in other federal civil rights laws and court rulings, and termination of pregnancy.
“The 2016 Rule declined to recognize sexual orientation as a protected category under the ACA, and HHS will leave that judgment undisturbed,” HHS said.
The department had proposed a similar change to the Obama-era rule last year, saying that in light of several legal challenges to the rule, it wanted to “address the overbroad interpretations” of it and “reduce the significant confusion and unjustified burdens” it said the rule caused.
“We cannot and will not allow Donald Trump to continue attacking us. Today, the Human Rights Campaign is announcing plans to sue the Trump administration for exceeding their legal authority and attempting to remove basic health care protections from vulnerable communities including LGBTQ people,” Alphonso David, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the move could cost lives, and the National Center for Transgender Equality called the move “heartless” and said the administration is “encouraging discrimination” with the rule change.
“This rule sends a message that medical providers can turn people away from a COVID-19 test or treatment simply because of who they are,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the group’s deputy executive director. “We should be making it easier to get health care in a time of need, not harder. This is heartless.”
HHS said in its release that it plans to continue “vigorously” enforcing civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in health care based on its interpretation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
“HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress,” said Roger Severino, the director of the department’s Office for Civil Rights.
This story has been updated to include additional information and reaction.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.