More than five years ago, Section 1557—a little known provision in the Affordable Care Act—promised to protect individuals from race, sex, age, and disability discrimination in health programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. But until this fall, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hadn’t offered any interpretation of what the nondiscrimination provision requires. Today, the comment period for the proposed rule closes, and HHS will set to work finalizing the Nondiscrimination Rule. Together with professors Jessica Roberts and Jessica Clarke and Yale Law students Elizabeth Dervan and Elizabeth Deutsch, I drafted lengthy comments on the proposed rule. In a series of blog posts this week, we’ll explain what HHS got right, where its interpretation went wrong, and how it can provide clarity to healthcare programs and the public.
The ACA broke new ground in prohibiting sex discrimination in healthcare for the first time. Women and LGBT people face persistent and systemic discrimination at the hands of insurers, hospitals, and doctors. Women’s pain goes undertreated, and their heart attacks undiagnosed. Due in part to their capacity to become pregnant, women have largely been excluded from studies. More than half of LGBT people report facing discrimination in healthcare settings. Transgender men and women have encountered ridicule, refusals of treatment, and hostility in emergencies with fatal and near-fatal consequences.
The Affordable Care Act aims to change this. The Nondiscrimination Rule presents a historic opportunity for HHS to interpret sex discrimination broadly. In its proposed rule, HHS seems poised to take advantage of this opportunity by reaching pregnancy, sex stereotyping, and gender identity discrimination. To meet HHS’s goal of ensuring the most robust set of protections in current law, the final rule should also make clear that sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination.