The federal government has rolled back Obama-era protections that would ensure trans patients have access to medical treatment without discrimination.
Trigger Warning: Homophobia, Transphobia, Gun Violence
Bang in the middle of Pride Month, the Trump administration has reworded policy in order to make it easier for healthcare professionals to deny medical help to trans patients. In a move that erases Obama-era protections for the transgender community, the federal government finalized on Friday a regulation that is part of a broader attempt at narrowing the legal definition of "sex discrimination." Now, there is more room for discrimination against trans folks in the fields of education, housing, and employment, The New York Times reports. The change has been highly criticized by trans rights activists and is likely to leave thousands of trans people at risk.
When asked about the change in policy, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services Roger Severino claimed it was simply "housekeeping." The agency is responsible for the newly-introduced rule which it claims was implemented as a means of updating their books "to reflect the legal reality" of sex discrimination. The Obama administration had previously interpreted the law to include gender identity, not just the gender assigned at birth. Under the original rule from 2016, all healthcare providers and insurers would have been mandated by federal to "provide and cover medically appropriate treatment" for all trans patients.
The law was established as part of former President Barack Obama's attempt at implementing universal healthcare in the United States, the Affordable Care Act. The 2010 Act deemed that anyone, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, seeking treatment from "any health program or activity" that receives federal financial assistance, would receive it - without discrimination. This particular aspect of the law has been under litigation for several years and the Trump administration has simply refused to enforce it. Ultimately, this means that the final rule really has no immediate practical effect. It must be noted, however, that several courts which considered the same legal questions found in favor of the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law.
According to Severino, the change allows for flexibility; healthcare providers are now free to adopt their own policies regarding gender identity and care. He stated, "It’s not the role of the federal bureaucrat to impose their own meanings on the words that their representatives have enshrined into law." Nonetheless, this is why the change is particularly discriminatory, it permits bigoted healthcare professionals to turn away whoever they so please. For trans rights activists, the development could not have been revealed at a worse time. Not only is this month supposed to be a celebration of non-cisgender identities, but it was also announced on the four-year anniversary of the mass shooting that took place at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Severino claimed this was "purely coincidental."
To add to this, the ongoing public health crisis will only worsen medical care for trans folks. Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, explained, "It’s really, really horrendous to not only gut nondiscrimination protections, but to gut nondiscrimination protections in the middle of a pandemic. This rule opens a door for a medical provider to turn someone away for a Covid-19 test just because they happen to be transgender." The Trump administration thus makes one thing clear: trans lives do not matter to them.
Recognizing this implicit affirmation, the Human Rights Campaign released the following statement: "We will not let this attack on our basic right to be free from discrimination in health care go unchallenged. We will see them in court, and continue to challenge all of our elected officials to rise up against this blatant attempt to erode critical protections people need and sanction discrimination." Hopefully, the book of law will find that all Americans, regardless of gender identity and expression, are entitled to accessible and affordable healthcare.