The Obama administration took a step Friday to provide federal recognition of transgender rights when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized a rule extending health-care equity to transgender people.
The rule, proposed last year, implements Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping in federally funded health-care programs. HHS had already extended civil rights protections for race, color, national origin, disability, and age.
“The protections in the final rule and Section 1557 regarding individuals’ rights and the responsibilities of many health insurers, hospitals, and health plans administered by or receiving federal funds from HHS build on existing federal civil rights laws to advance protections for underserved, underinsured, and often excluded populations,” HHS said in a statement.
The final rule does not settle the issue of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, the statement said. However, the rule empowers HHS’s Office for Civil Rights to evaluate such complaints for potential violations under Section 1557.
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“HHS supports prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination as a matter of policy and will continue to monitor legal developments on this issue,” the agency said.
The rule goes into effect July 18.
HHS made the announcement shortly after the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice advised public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Although that guidance lacks the force of law or an executive order, school administrators, LGBTQ groups, and others hailed it as a significant step toward enshrining transgender protections at the federal level, particularly as Republican state officials attack those protections.
“Today’s announcement is one of the biggest wins ever for transgender people at the national level,” the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) said in a blog post about the HHS-sanctioned protections.
NCTE officials warned that insurance companies could attempt to deny paying for various medically necessary treatments even though the regulations under the rule correspond with the “overwhelming medical consensus” to cover costs associated with transition-related care.
“Studies indicate that covering transition-related care is of insignificant cost and has the potential to be cost-saving, as people who are provided this care are more likely to have increased overall mental health, greater HIV medication adherence, and less anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance abuse,” the group said. “Thus, the fight is not over.”