This week, a federal court blocked a Trump administration rule that would have allowed health plans and providers to refuse to provide certain types of care they disagreed with on moral or religious grounds. Set to take effect on November 22, the rule would have permitted individuals to deny care even in circumstances where performing the refused service was a significant portion of their jobs, and even where the refusal could prevent patients from receiving the service altogether.
The court found that this broad rule violated several statutes, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act that ensures access to emergency care. In addition, the court determined that the administration did not comply with proper rulemaking and used “factually untrue” arguments to justify this rulemaking.
Existing civil rights laws require careful balancing of the rights of providers and the rights of patients, and do not require employers to hire and employ individuals if accommodating those employees would create an undue hardship for the employer. For example, a surgical practice is not required to employ as a surgeon a doctor who is morally opposed to surgery. This rule would have upended such balancing by requiring employers to staff around objecting health care providers. The court found that the rule could force employers to double or even triple staff under some circumstances, driving up costs in the health care system and reducing the ability of employers to adjust staffing appropriately.
In addition, the rule failed to establish exceptions for emergency situations, potentially putting the lives and health of patients at risk.
The administration claimed this rule was necessary because of a large spike in complaints from health care workers about perceived violations of their religious and conscience rights, announcing they had received 343 such complaints in 2018 alone. But during oral arguments, the administration admitted that they had not actually received such a huge influx of complaints and the true number was around 20.
Medicare Rights welcomes this decision. As outlined in our public comments, we have serious concerns with the rule, including its failure to balance the potential conflict between providers’ conscience rights and the rights of citizens to access needed heath care without discrimination or undue barriers. People with Medicare must be able to trust they will receive the care they want and need.