Legal, Policy

District judge blocks HHS rule that would end transgender health protections

A U.S. district judge blocked a rule by the Department of Health and Human Services that would end anti-discrimination provisions protecting transgender patients. In his decision, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block said that the rule violated a recent Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ workers’ rights.

A district judge blocked a rule by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would have removed anti- discrimination provisions protecting transgender patients. On Monday, Senior U.S. District Judge Frederic Block ruled that the HHS’ changes violated a recent landmark Supreme Court ruling, and that the agency acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in enacting them.

Healthcare providers are required to treat individuals consistent with their gender identity, and insurers are prohibited from imposing transgender-specific exclusions to care, under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. In June, HHS put forth a final rule that it would no longer enforce these protections.

The rule would also have had additional ramifications, restricting where the ACA’s broader anti-discrimination provisions would apply. Instead of applying to all health plans, the provisions would be limited to healthcare providers and insurance plans that receive federal financial assistance, such as ACA marketplace plans or Medicare Advantage plans.

HHS’ announcement came just three days before a landmark Supreme Court decision that discrimination based on sex includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. The ruling cemented LGBTQ workers’ protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and threw the legality of HHS’ final rule into question.

In his decision, Block wrote that HHS would have known the Supreme Court case was pending and would have ramifications for its final rule. But instead of re-evaluating its proposal after the Supreme Court verdict, HHS did nothing.

“When the Supreme Court announces a major decision, it seems a sensible thing to pause and reflect on the decision’s impact,” he wrote in his order. “Since HHS has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the Court now imposes it.”

The case, Asapansa-Johnson Walker et al. v Azar II et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Photo credit: Mykola Velychko, Getty Images