Last year I traveled to North Dakota as part of NCLR’s Rural Pride campaign. We partnered with organizations there to hold the first-ever LGBTQ summit in the state. The powerful gathering brought together people from across the upper Midwest who shared stories of coming out, fighting discrimination, and finding community.
One of the most troubling stories was a transgender woman and her partner describing how they had been turned away from a doctor’s office, where they were told “we don’t treat people like you.” It was heartbreaking that this couple simply accepted this horrific treatment, assuming that because they live in a red state, they had no recourse.
The truth is, no one has to accept being turned away by a health care provider or insurer because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s because the Affordable Care Act, which is still the law of the land, includes a groundbreaking provision making it illegal to discriminate in health care because of sex. Because federal courts have interpreted laws against sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, many LGBT plaintiffs have used the ACA to hold health care providers accountable when they discriminate against patients for being LGBT or transgender.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations making it clear that the ACA requires equal treatment of LGBT people in healthcare, including in the provision of transition-related care for transgender patients. Those regulations led insurers and many state Medicaid programs to change their practices and eliminate unfair exclusions of coverage for care that transgender people need.
And then the Trump-Pence administration came along. They installed Roger Severino, a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality, to lead the Office for Civil Rights within HHS – the agency tasked with enforcing the nondiscrimination protections put in place by the ACA. HHS has now decided to change the regulations issued under President Obama and eliminate the protections for LGBTQ people.
The good news is they can’t do that without letting the public weigh in first. All federal agencies have to provide an opportunity for people to submit comments on new regulations before they can take effect. They also are obligated to actually read those comments and take them into account and potentially change the regulation based on what people say.
But the clock is running out! The deadline for receiving comments is August 13, 2019. HHS needs to hear from our community about how harmful it would be to take away protections we have come to rely on, to ensure we can access the health care we need. Personal stories of how a regulation would affect individual people are very powerful and it’s important to have them in the public record.
We urge everyone to make their voices heard in this process. You can click here to go to a page we’ve created to make it as easy as possible for you to weigh in. Whether your state is red, blue, or purple, you don’t have to accept poor treatment from health care providers or insurance companies. Let’s keep fighting, together, to ensure that what happened to our friends in North Dakota becomes a thing of the past.
Julianna S. Gonen is the policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.