LOS ANGELES Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) released a proposed rule that could strengthen protections for health care workers who refuse to provide health services for religious or moral reasons, including health care for LGBT patients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights ( HHS OCR ), which is charged with enforcing federal civil rights laws related to health care, yesterday established a new division at the agency dedicated to enforcing this policy.
"OCR devotes little, if any, attention to the damaging consequences for the health and well-being of vulnerable communities by allowing health care workers to opt out of providing care," said Jocelyn Samuels, former Director of HHS OCR from 2014 to the end of the Obama Administration and current Executive Director at the Williams Institute. "HHS's mission is to enhance access to health care, and OCR is obligated to enforce laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex, among other bases. 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 LGBT adults in the U.S. The existence of widespread discrimination and stigma against LGBT people in health care, as well as other barriers to care and well-being, is well-documented. For example:
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."
According to the Institute of Medicine, "LGBT individuals have reported experiencing refusal of treatment by health care staff, verbal abuse, and disrespectful behavior, as well as many other forms of failure to provide adequate care."
Fear of stigmatization or previous negative experiences with the health care system has led LGBT individuals to delay seeking care.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey ( USTS ), one-third ( 33 percent ) of transgender people who saw a health care provider in the past year reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender.
One-quarter of USTS respondents experienced a problem with their insurance, such as being denied coverage for care related to gender transition or being denied coverage for routine care because they were transgender.
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance