Transgender Americans had thought they’d be ringing in the new year with an assured entitlement to healthcare under a new anti-discrimination provision of Obamacare. But that didn’t happen.
On Dec. 31, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide court order that blocked the policy one day before it was scheduled to go into effect. The court order, brought by the states of Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Kentucky, and Mississippi, along with three Christian-affiliated groups, stated that the Health and Human Services department’s regulations prohibiting doctors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, or against women seeking abortions, violated practitioners’ religious freedom.
“Plaintiffs claim the Rule’s interpretation of sex discrimination pressures doctors to deliver healthcare in a manner that violates their religious freedom and thwarts their independent medical judgement and will require burdensome changes to their health insurance plans on January 1, 2017,” District Court Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in his opinion.
O’Connor’s ruling is a victory for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the fight against the Obama administration’s new guidelines. On Sunday, Paxton in a statement described those guidelines as a “striking example of federal overreach” that would “force many doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in Texas” to provide “controversial services” such as gender-affirming surgeries “even if it violates their best medical judgement or their religious beliefs.”
The guidelines were released last summer by Health and Human Services, clarifying Section 1557, the civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The guidelines explicitly state that the provision applies to transgender Americans, and applies to any health program or activity that receives federal funding, including hospitals that accept Medicare or doctors who receive medicaid payments.
“This is another predictable, baseless ruling by a judge who state officials handpicked to deliver a ruling against transgender people,” said National Center for Transgender Equality’s Executive Director Mara Keisling in a statement. “Every major medical association in this country agrees that transition-related medical care is medically necessary and even life-saving for many people.”
There are approximately 1.4 million transgender Americans. In a recent survey of 28,000 transgender adults, one-third of respondents said they had experienced discrimination, including harassment or being turned away, by a medical provider in the past year.
A spokeswoman for the White House condemned O’Connor’s ruling. “Today’s decision is a setback, but hopefully a temporary one,” Katie Hill told Reuters. “All Americans — regardless of their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation — should have access to quality, affordable healthcare, free from discrimination.”