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HHS affirms health care discrimination law protects LGBT people

Monday, August 6, 2012
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that it views a 2010 law prohibiting sex discrimination in health care services as protecting transgender and other LGBT people from discrimination based on gender identity and gender stereotyping.

The announcement comes after the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), along with other groups, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for a clarification of the law.

According to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, no individual, seeking the services provided by the Affordable Care Act, should be discriminated against on the grounds of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. NCTE requested clarification of the law as it pertains to LGBT individuals.

“Numerous recent reports … have made clear that LGBT people face high levels of discrimination in the provision of health services that has a substantial impact on individual and public health,” the letter read. “Guidance from HHS is urgently needed to clarify the critical legal protections that section 1557 provides for these populations.”

The HHS responded in agreement with NCTE and its partners, sending a response letter acknowledging Section 1557’s coverage of gender identity and gender stereotyping.

“We agree that Section 1557’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and will accept such complaints for investigation,” said Leon Rodriguez, Director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

“Section 1557 also prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the individuals involved,” he said.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE, called the clarification a step in the right direction — the ultimate goal being a law specifically banning discrimination based on gender identity.

Rodriguez echoed Keisling’s sentiments and said he plans to continue working with the LGBT community on these issues.

“My office is continuing and will continue to increase our outreach and education efforts with individuals, community organizations and providers regarding their rights and responsibilities under Section 1557,” Rodriguez said. “The HHS OCR intends to issue future guidance on Section 1557.”

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