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Trump administration announces rollback of health care regulations protecting LGBTQ people

Discriminating against transgender workers

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced Friday that it is proposing a rule that would change a regulation under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that expanded anti-discrimination protections to transgender individuals. 

The new regulation would change the 2016 rule that banned discrimination -- on the basis of sex and against trangender people -- by health care providers that receive federal funding.

In a release announcing the proposed change, HHS pointed to a Texas judge's December 2016 injunction that kept the Obama-era rule from being implemented. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor sided with the state of Texas and other plaintiffs who argued that the Obama rule would force health care providers and insurers to enable transgender people to be treated and get coverage for gender transitions and abortions, despite their religious beliefs or against their medical judgment.

Opponents including the Human Rights Campaign say the change would effectively remove explicit protections for LGBTQ individuals by excluding them from gender-based protections.

"The Trump-Pence administration's latest attack threatens to undermine crucial non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people provided for under the Affordable Care Act," said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. "The administration puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity." 

The new HHS rule appears to allow health care workers, doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide services for LGBTQ people. The move could also curtail access to critical care for many women, as well as gay and transgender patients including transition-related and reproductive care. 

The proposed regulations also seek to permit health care entities and workers to cite personal or religious beliefs to be able to deny insurance or care to LGBT patients or policy-holders.

HHS says that the change in regulations comes after federal court rulings that deemed the regulation "unlawful" and "contrary to the applicable civil rights law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act." The department says that the rule will bring regulations into conformity with the "plain meaning" of sex discrimination.

"When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform," said Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino in a statement. "The American people want vigorous protection of civil rights and faithfulness to the text of the laws passed by their representatives. The proposed rule would accomplish both goals."

HHS claims that with the revision, it would "maintain vigorous civil rights enforcement on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, and sex" while also eliminating approximately $3.6 billion in "unnecessary regulatory costs over five years."

"We are committed to full enforcement of civil rights laws before, during, and after any rule-making," said Severino. "We are also committed to the elimination of regulations that contradict law or raise the costs of healthcare without achieving intended results."

The move is the latest in a series of rollbacks the administration has taken that directly impact the LGBTQ community. Just yesterday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a new rule proposal that would undo Obama-era protections for transgender people at homeless shelters, potentially allowing them to be turned away based on the shelter manager's religious beliefs.

Last year the Department of Justice argued that a federal civil rights law banning discrimination on the basis of sex did not extend to transgender people. This was followed by the Pentagon's controversial policy that keeps transgender troops from serving in the nation's military openly, which went into effect last month. That new regulation also blocks all use of Defense or Homeland Security resources to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures.

HHS will publish the proposed revision of the regulation in the Federal Register on Friday. The public will then have 60 days from that point to comment on the proposal.