A new law in Florida will soon allow doctors to turn away LGBTQ+ patients, citing religious and moral objections.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a “protections of medical conscience” bill as part of a so-called “medical freedom” agenda. Standing alongside controversial Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, DeSantis signed the legislation along with bills preventing employers from requiring vaccination status for new employees and barring certain virus research.
“These expanded protections will help ensure that medical authoritarianism does not take root in Florida,” DeSantis said at a Pensacola press conference.
That’s ironic, by the assessment of LGBTQ+ advocates. Equality Florida has called the legislation a “right to discriminate” bill, and compared it to the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2015.
“This bill is a broad license for health care providers and insurance companies to refuse services to people,” said Brandon Wolf, Equality Florida press secretary. “No one should be denied access to medical care. It gives health care providers and insurance companies an unprecedented ‘religious’ or ‘moral’ right to refuse to provide services. This puts patients in harm’s way, is antithetical to the job of health care providers, and puts the most vulnerable Floridians in danger. Our state should be in the business of increasing access to medical care, not giving providers and companies a sweeping carve out of nondiscrimination laws. Shame on the governor for putting Floridians’ health at risk to score cheap, political points.”
The Human Rights Campaign also slammed the new law.
“Religious beliefs are fundamental rights in our country. These core values have shaped our nation and strengthened our union,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Unfortunately, bills like SB 1580 distort our foundational freedoms into tools to limit the rights of others, including the LGBTQ+ community and other vulnerable people. Personal beliefs should not be wielded as a sword to deny critical medical care. The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns Gov. DeSantis for signing this dangerous bill.”
The concern now, though, is that companies will be able to deny coverage for HIV-positive patients seeking PrEP. That’s a realistic concern, as Publix, Florida’s largest employer, briefly tried to refuse coverage for the HIV prevention strategy in 2018.
Advocates fear it will also mean a loss of coverage for gender-affirming care, coverage some Florida lawmakers have voted to ban outright this legislative session. This bill is the first of several anti-LGBTQ laws passed by the Florida Legislature over the last two months to be signed into law.
The new law goes into effect on July 1.
The DeSantis administration bills the legislation as a freedom of speech protection. It would allow health care and coverage providers to opt out of participation for certain health care services on the basis of “conscience-based objections,” so long as those reasons are properly documented. The legislation prohibits the state Board of Medicine from disciplining individuals for refusing care.
“Governor DeSantis has been a pinnacle for freedom, and today we advance the cause of public health and individual autonomy in medical decisions,” Ladapo said. “From empowering patients to safeguarding children in schools, Florida continues to enshrine individual liberty and lead with common sense.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith, an out candidate for Florida Senate who previously served in the state House, slammed the new law. He said it gave for-profit insurance companies too much cover to simply deny promised coverage.
“Now they can cite any moral, ethical or religious reason to refuse payment of your claim,” he tweeted. “Insurance companies never had morals, but they will now.”
Notably, Pence as Indiana governor ultimately signed an amendment to the RFRA that specifically barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That came as the state faced threats of business boycotts that could have cost millions in economic impact.
It’s unclear if similar threats will move DeSantis, who has championed a number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws as he seems to preparefor a run for the Republican nomination for president.