Lambda Legal and a coalition of LGBTQ organizations sued the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on June 22 in response to the agency’s rule aimed at stripping transgender health protections from the Affordable Care Act.
The lawsuit comes just over a week after the administration finalized the rule, which undercuts a 2016 provision of Obamacare that included gender identity in the definition of sex discrimination. Under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals were directed to offer equal access of health services to trans people and women who have had abortions, while health insurers were required to cover the services.
Lambda Legal and Steptoe & Johnson LLP filed the lawsuit, dubbed Whitman-Walker Clinic v. HHS, on behalf of Whitman-Walker Health, a non-profit community health center in Washington, DC, specializing in HIV/ AIDS and LGBTQ-related care; the TransLatin@ Coalition and its members; Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Los Angeles LGBT Center; GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists; and four doctors.
“While HHS’s health care discrimination rule cannot change the law, it creates chaos and confusion where there was once clarity about the right of everyone in our communities, and specifically transgender people, to receive health care free of discrimination,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for Lambda Legal, said in a written statement. “Today, Lambda Legal, a broad coalition of LGBTQ groups, and the people our clients serve say ‘enough’ to the incessant attacks from the very agency charged with protecting their health and well-being. For years, the Trump administration has utilized HHS as a weapon to target and hurt vulnerable communities who already experience alarming rates of discrimination when seeking care, even now, during a global pandemic. Their actions are wrong, callous, immoral, and legally indefensible. We will fight back.”
Other groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, had said after the administration announced the rule that they would also be filing lawsuits. New York State Attorney General Letitia James said on June 15 that she would “legally challenge this rule.”
The rule was first proposed by the administration in May of last year and is slated to go into effect on August 18, but legal groups such as Lambda Legal and experts like Chase Strangio of the LGBT & HIV Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have argued that the rule is not legal.
“An agency can only do what is authorized by the law it is implementing,” Strangio wrote in a tweet on June 12. “So if the law says ‘no discrimination on the basis of sex’ an agency can’t decide to disregard that. The statue, not the regulatory definition, is the source of the protection.”
Three days after the administration announced the finalization of this rule, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that LGBTQ people have employment non-discrimination protections under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. While that ruling is expected to have a broader impact beyond employment, it is not clear whether it could have an impact on this case.
Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, said in a written statement that the TransLatin@ Coalition and its affiliates exist because there are already challenges for those in the community who are seeking competent, compassionate healthcare. The administration’s new rule, however, jeopardizes all of that.
“Our lives depend on it and we’re going to fight for it,” Salcedo said.
Adrian Shanker, the executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, expressed similar justification for joining the lawsuit.
“Healthcare non-discrimination protections are essential to ensure that LGBTQ people can receive the healthcare we need to survive,” Shanker said in a written statement. “That’s why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is standing up to the Trump administration on behalf of our community. Healthcare is a human right and LGBTQ people deserve non-discriminatory healthcare.”
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