22 States and DC Sue HHS for Overturning Some ACA Protections

Alicia Ault

July 21, 2020

Attorneys general from 22 states and Washington, DC are suing the Trump Administration, seeking to stop a rule from going into effect that they say overturns protections for LGBTQ individuals, women seeking abortions, people with disabilities, and low-proficiency English speakers.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, says the rule is "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law" and violates the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment.

"This is a mean and unconstitutional rule in any context," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on a call with reporters. "But to authorize discrimination in our healthcare system at this time when our nation is suffering through a pandemic is unbelievably immoral," he said.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) first proposed in 2019 to eliminate the protections afforded by section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The department made the policy final on June 19, despite 200,000 comments, many of them negative, said New York Attorney General Letitia James on the call.

Section 1557 prohibits healthcare providers and health programs/healthcare facilities that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a rule interpreting the section, stating that health plans, insurers, and health providers could not discriminate against LGBTQ people, women and individuals seeking reproductive health care, individuals with low English proficiency, and people with disabilities.

Becerra, James, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told reporters that the new rule interpreting section 1557 was part of the Trump administration's campaign to destroy the ACA and to target transgender people in particular.

"We have no doubt that this rule was simply motivated by the Trump Administration's animus toward the transgender community," said James. "Additionally, the president has never, never, hidden his contempt and disrespect for women and their access to reproductive health care," she said.

The attorneys general believe they have a good standing, given that the US Supreme Court on June 15 ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

"I think the Bostock decision makes clear that this kind of discrimination is illegal under current law," said Healey.

The rule goes into effect August 19. The attorneys general are asking the court to block HHS from implementing the rule, James explained.

In addition to California, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC, the following states joined the suit: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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