New federal rule seeks to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new rule Thursday to protect transgender people from discrimination in health care settings.

The rule only applies to health care entities that receive federal funding, and thus may not have any legal impact on the medical services offered at the Tang Center. Nevertheless, the center supports the passage of the rule, and offers transgender-specific services including subsidized options for counseling, gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy.

“The proposed HHS rule is an enormous milestone for all transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S.,” said the Transgender Law Center’s executive director Kris Hayashi in a press release. “Access to safe, respectful health care is a basic human right, and this policy makes a huge advance towards equity in health care for transgender people.”

If passed, the rule would implement Section 1557 of the federal Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health-care settings on the basis of “race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.” Consequentially, the rule will protect transgender individuals against discrimination by providing avenues for disciplinary action and by eliminating the exclusion of gender transition-related medical care by certain health insurance providers.

The Tang Center, however, does not receive any federal funding that would mandate its compliance with the proposed rule, and would have to consult campus legal experts to see if the final version of the rule would affect their practices, according to the center’s communications manager Kim LaPean.

LaPean added that the rule would most significantly change the practices of health insurance providers who currently exclude coverage for gender transition-related care, and that the Student Health Insurance Plan offered by the campus in conjunction with Aetna already includes transition-related care and counseling for those who seek it. In addition, the state of California already prohibits all insurance providers in the state from exclusions of coverage based on gender identity.

Although the text of the rule itself notes that “the new burdens created by its issuance are minimal,” the estimated costs for its implementation total about $550 million.

Because the Affordable Care Act makes exemptions with regards to preventive health services on the grounds of religious beliefs and practices, the HHS is currently requesting comment on the extent to which such exemptions should apply to the implementation of this rule. The HHS is obligated to review comments received, and, barring a cancellation of the rule, will then publish a final version with any revisions or additions. Although such administrative rules are subject to congressional approval, only one rule has been rejected by Congress since 1996.

The rule is open for public comment until Nov. 9.

Contact Ishaan Srivastava at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ishaansriv.