Patients’ Needs, Not Personal Beliefs, Come First in Health Care

From the
start, the Trump administration has issued one regulation after another that uses
religion to deny people — particularly pregnant people, people with low-incomes,
and LGBTQ people — health care access and coverage. Today, we are asking
a federal district court in New York to strike down one of the most pernicious
of these regulations: the refusal of care rule.

The refusal
of care rule
, issued by the Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS), allows health care providers who receive federal
funds to withhold critical information and to obstruct patient’s access to
essential health care invoking their personal religious or moral beliefs — even
in emergencies. The rule means that even if a hospital discovers an employee
would be unwilling to care for all patients equally, they have to remain
employed.

This could be deadly for patients. When asked, HHS refused
to even answer whether the rule would allow a paramedic to refuse to drive a
patient with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy to the hospital because the
paramedic knows the patient will receive an abortion. You read that right: The
federal agency whose mission
it is “to enhance and protect the health and well-being” of all of us would
allow paramedics to abandon patients in an emergency because they personally
are anti-abortion. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but those
beliefs cannot be used to discriminate against others or to deny critical
health care. 

The
refusal of care rule’s disregard for the harm to patients is alarming, but,
unfortunately, not surprising. Early on, the Trump administration told the country that it would prioritize religious
beliefs — and, let’s be clear, a very specific set of religious beliefs — above
the needs of patients, regardless of the harms to individuals. And it has
certainly lived up to that promise.

Indeed,
the refusal of care rule is just one example of many. One of the first in this
disturbing trend was the Trump administration’s move in October 2017 to roll back rules under the Affordable Care Act that
ensure people have contraception coverage in their health plans without a
co-pay. The Trump rule would allow almost any employer or university to block health
insurance coverage for contraception for their employees or students because of
their religious opposition to contraception. Fortunately, that rule has been
blocked nationwide.

Then, in
March 2019, the Trump administration set its sights on Title X, the nation’s
only family planning program and the sole source of this kind of care for
millions of low-income patients. HHS issued rules that allow health care providers
to withhold information about abortion from patients — even when the patient
specifically asks about it — based on the provider’s religious opposition. The administration
is still trying to push trusted providers out of the Title X program and invite
in religiously affiliated providers that will withhold critical information
from patients. The Title X rule is already in effect, and participants across
the country are being forced to withdraw from the program. Our case challenging the rules is ongoing.

Most
recently, in May 2019, the Trump administration went after protections for transgender
individuals and others who face sex discrimination in health care and insurance
coverage. HHS has included a proposal
to roll back those protections
by carving out an absolute
exemption for religiously-affiliated health care providers from the prohibition
on sex discrimination. This would not just apply to a handful of providers: One
in six
patients is treated in a Catholic facility each year, and
religious hospitals are also increasingly the only health care option in many
regions. In 2016, 46 communities relied on a Catholic provider as their sole
community hospital
.

In each
instance, the administration cites religious refusals as a reason to undermine
the very programs they are tasked with advancing, including by pushing trusted
health care providers out of those programs and by inviting providers into
health care programs that withhold critical care and information from patients.

It’s clear that the Trump administration is doing everything
it can to strip patients of protections that ensure that they get the proper
health care, and is ignoring the devastating consequences of being denied care,
including by our clients
who were turned
away
from religiously affiliated hospitals when they needed
treatment

If this
rule goes into effect next month as planned, the harms to patients and the
health care providers that care for them will be real and exceedingly difficult
to mitigate. That’s why we’re heading to court today to protect patients and
make sure that the Trump administration does not do any more damage to health
care access.

This content was originally published here.