LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule that could strengthen protections for healthcare workers who refuse to provide health services for religious or moral reasons, including healthcare for LGBTQ patients. The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing federal civil rights laws related to healthcare and will enforce this new policy.
Jocelyn Samuels, former director of HHS OCR from 2014 to the end of the Obama Administration and current executive director at the Williams Institute, reacted: “If OCR uniformly elevates the right to refuse care above the civil rights of patients, it would be a disservice to the public and the goals of the department. HHS must consider the negative impact of any religious exemption on the health of LGBT people, women, and all communities as it moves forward toward a final rule.”
There are approximately 10.7 million LGBTQ adults in the U.S. The existence of widespread discrimination and stigma against LGBTQ people in healthcare, as well as other barriers to care and well-being, is well documented. For instance, The Institute of Medicine has concluded that “LGBT individuals face discrimination in the health care system that can lead to an outright denial of care or to the delivery of inadequate care.”
Fear of stigmatization or previous negative experienced with the healthcare system has led LGBTQ individuals to delay seeking care.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), one-third (33 percent) of transgender people who saw a healthcare provider in the past year reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender.
The Williams Institute also reported that estimates of 1,171,000 LGBTQ adults ages 18-64 years have Medicaid as their primary source of health insurance. While the majority of LGBTQ adults with Medicaid are employed, an estimated 542,000 may be at risk of losing coverage due to work or community service requirements that states may impose under guidance released by the HHS.