AG James sues Trump administration for health protection rollback

New York Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

New York Attorney General Letitia James along with 23 other Democratic attorney generals are suing the Trump administration to stop a new rule that removes non-discrimination protections against LGBTQ people when it comes to health care and health insurance which is set to take effect in mid-August.

Headed by James and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the lawsuit was filed against the United States Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and the head of HHS’s Office of Civil Rights, Roger Severino, in New York’s Southern District on Monday.

James and the coalition of fellow attorney generals argue the new rule “emboldens providers and insurers” to discriminate against not just members of the LGBTQ community but other  “vulnerable and protected classes of Americans” like new Americans with limited English proficiency and women.

The Trump administration issued a final rule rolling back the sex and gender discrimination protection in section 1557 of President Barack Obama’s 2016 Affordable Care Act in mid-June. 

“Under the final rule, HHS eliminates certain provisions of the 2016 Rule that exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress in Section 1557. HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word “sex” as male or female and as determined by biology.  The 2016 Rule declined to recognize sexual orientation as a protected category under the ACA, and HHS will leave that judgment undisturbed,” HHS wrote in a statement. 

But the provision of the ACA prohibited discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex disability, or age by health programs or facilities receiving federal funds.

“Despite failing to repeal the ACA again and again, President Trump and his administration continue to unlawfully chip away at health care for Americans,” said James. “By rolling back rules that ensure the ACA protects all Americans, the president is unlawfully giving health care providers and insurers license to deny care to LGBTQ+ individuals, those who do not speak English, and women. It is never acceptable to deny health care to Americans who need it, but it is especially egregious to do so in the middle of a pandemic. For more than a decade, the ACA has provided tens of millions of Americans with quality, affordable health coverage, which is why we will use every tool at our disposal to stop the Trump Administration from taking us backwards.”

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring the HHS ruling is arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the law under the Administrative Procedure Act and violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment, James and the coalition said. The new rule would place unreasonable barriers on those trying to seek medical care and impede timely access to health care, the coalition argues.

Attorney Generals from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,  Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin are also a part of the lawsuit.

This story first appeared on amny.com.