HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s elected officials spoke in unison against a proposed federal rule that would allow healthcare providers to discriminate against individuals based on their gender identity.
The rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would remove consumer protections against discrimination and harm for approximately 12,400 adults who identify as transgender in Connecticut.
Healthcare Advocate Ted Doolittle, who organized Tuesday’s Legislative Office Building press conference, said the rule creates a two-tiered system in which insurers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual identity and gender presentation in some plans, but not others.
It means residents in Connecticut who switch jobs could be covered one day under a state-regulated plan, but not covered under a plan offered by an employer who is self-insured.
In Connecticut, there are 2.21 million privately insured residents. Of those, about 1.85 million get their insurance from large group plans that could be impacted by this proposed change in federal regulation. Only about 366,000 Connecticut residents with individual plans or who are covered under small group plans are protected by Connecticut laws that can’t be impacted by the federal government.
“My concern is the small self-funded plans are the fastest-growing part of the market,” Doolittle said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the new rule is not only a departure from the existing regulation, but “it also defies the spirit and the letter of the Affordable Care Act and all of the statutes underlying it that prevent and prohibit discrimination.”
Blumenthal and 29 of his colleagues in the Senate have written a letter in opposition to the proposed regulation.
“This administration wants to turn back the clock and roll back the law and enable rampant, systematic discrimination,” Blumenthal said.
The consequences of this proposal mean that transgender individuals won’t access health care services, which will lead to adverse health outcomes or even death.
“One out of every four transgender people reports some serious discrimination based on their gender identity,” Blumenthal said. “This is not some hypothetical problem.”
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said it’s been a constant battle against discrimination at the state and federal level.
“The president is trying to institutionalize discrimination in yet another federal law,” Bysiewicz said. “We’re here today to stand up and forcefully and clearly say that transgender people in our state and in our country should have equal access to healthcare and we are strongly against these proposed regulations.”
Attorney General William Tong said the proposed rule was part of President Donald Trump’s attempt to establish “a national policy of hate and cruelty and we are not going to stand by and let it happen.”
He said it’s also an attempt to dismantle the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is trying to get a court to strike down.
“We cannot allow health care providers in Connecticut to object to treating a patient based on immutable characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gov. Ned Lamont wrote in public comments submitted to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on the proposed regulation. “We also reject the right of insurers to limit or exclude people from coverage on that basis. We oppose provisions that will limit women in making choices about their health care and in exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.”
Diana Lombardi, executive director of the CT TransAdvocacy Coalition, said the health care everyone was talking about Tuesday is not “frivolous, but medically necessary.”
“We are also concerned about the medical providers invoking religious exemptions and refusing to provide medical care to us,” she said. “There have been a number of cases where medical providers refuse to provide medical treatment … and it resulted in death or serious injury.”
She said they should not have to fear what will happen when they call 911.
Currently, section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination in health programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance, as well as entities created under the ACA. It is the first federal law to ban sex discrimination in health care.
U.S Health and Human Services is proposing to get rid of that section and replace it with language that would not protect transgender individuals.
HHS is taking comment on the proposed rule until midnight, Aug. 13.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday’s press conference was part of an effort to get more people to submit comments on the subject.