BALTIMORE, MD—Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh on Thursday joined a multistate coalition in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging it not to finalize its proposed regulation, “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” (Section 1557 Rule).
Section 1557 prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age, or disability. However, if finalized, the coalition alleges that the proposed changes to this provision would seriously undermine the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination protections.
“HHS should be increasing protections and access to health care for vulnerable populations, not putting up additional roadblocks—especially during a worldwide health crisis,” said Attorney General Frosh. “As this administration continues to chip away at anti-discrimination protections, individuals already facing barriers to quality health care are put at even greater risk.”
The proposed rule would roll back anti-discrimination protections for communities of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, those with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities by undermining critical legal protections that guarantee health care as a right, according to the coalition.
“Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in health care that the ACA attempted to address, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and more than 100 national and local organizations recently signed an open letter to the health care community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population,” reads a press release from Attorney General Frosh’s office. “HHS itself has long noted that discrimination within the health care system contributes to poor coverage and health outcomes, and exacerbates existing health disparities in underserved communities. Individuals who have experienced discrimination in health care often postpone or forgo needed care, resulting in adverse health outcomes.”
In their letter, the attorneys general argue that moving forward with this rule in the midst of the current COVID-19 health care crisis will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, health care providers, and patients at a time when the health care system is overloaded and battling to save lives.
“Data suggests that increased access to health care could assist with prompt COVID-19 detection and increase early treatment, helping diminish the spread of the disease,” the press release continues. “For these reasons, the attorneys general warn the administration that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the pandemic is not only irresponsible, it could be deadly.”
Joining Attorney General Frosh in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.