Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 24 states in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging it not to finalize its proposed rule during COVID-19 that would allow discrimination in providing healthcare.
The “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” (Section 1557 Rule) is an antidiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination in healthcare based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age or disability. If finalized, the proposed changes to this provision would seriously undermine the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) critical anti-discrimination protections at a time when they are most needed to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one should ever be afraid of being discriminated against by a healthcare provider, especially during a national health crisis,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color in Virginia and around the country, exacerbating the racial and ethnic disparities in our healthcare system. We cannot allow the Trump Administration to make it easier for healthcare providers to discriminate against their patients.”
The proposed rule would roll back anti-discrimination protections for communities of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, those with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities by undermining critical legal protections that guarantee healthcare as a right. Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare that the ACA attempted to address, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid.
Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and recently more than 100 national and local organizations signed on to an open letter to the healthcare community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population. HHS itself has long noted that discrimination within the healthcare system contributes to poor coverage and health outcomes, and exacerbates existing health disparities in underserved communities. Individuals who have experienced discrimination in healthcare often postpone or forgo needed healthcare, resulting in adverse health outcomes.
In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that moving forward with this rule change in the midst of this unprecedented healthcare crisis will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, healthcare providers, and patients at a time when the healthcare system is battling to save lives. Data suggests that increased access to healthcare could assist with prompt COVID-19 detection and increase early treatment, which helps diminish spread of the disease. For these reasons, the coalition warns the Trump Administration that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the current crisis is not only irresponsible, it is potentially deadly.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.