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Joe Biden finally restores LGBT+ healthcare protections, reversing cruel Trump-era policy

Maggie Baska May 10, 2021
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Joe Biden 100 days congress

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol 28 April 2021 in Washington, DC on the eve of his 100th day in office. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

The Biden administration says gay and transgender people will once again be protected from sex discrimination in healthcare, reversing a cruel Trump-era policy that narrowed the scope of legal rights involving medical care.

On Monday (10 May), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination in healthcare should also protect gay and trans people.

This essentially restores policy established during the Obama administration which was overturned by former president Trump. The Trump administration had defined “sex” to mean gender assigned at birth, excluding trans people from being protected from discrimination.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of the HHS, said in a statement on Monday (10 May) the new policy change will mean everyone – including LGBT+ people – can access healthcare without the fear of discrimination.

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” Becerra said. “Everyone – including LGBTQ people – should be able to access healthcare, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

Becerra said the Biden administration policy will bring HHS in line with the landmark Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v Clayton County, which ruled LGBT+ people must be protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Becerra said. “That’s why today HHS announced it will act on related reports of discrimination.”

Dr Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health and the first openly trans federal official approved by the Senate, affirmed the decision would protect LGBT+ people because “no one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are”.

“The mission of our department is to enhance the health and wellbeing of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Dr Levine said. “All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk.”

The policy change essentially restores anti-discrimination language included by the Obama administration in the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, which established broad civil rights protections in healthcare. The act included a prohibition on sex discrimination in healthcare, and the Obama administration interpreted that to apply to LGBT+ people.

But in June 2020, the Trump administration announced it would be scrapping protections in health and medical care against discrimination based on gender identity. Trump’s HHS issued a statement that it would be “returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the world ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”.

To add insult to injury, the announcement came during Pride month, in the middle of the pandemic, and on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

The Biden administration’s new policy means that the HHS Office for Civil Rights will be able to investigate complaints of sex discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity once again. This would mean hospitals, clinics and other healthcare providers could face government sanctions for discriminating against LGBT+ people and violations of the law.

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