The following is a media release submitted to SOURCE from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, May 21, joined a coalition of 23 states, cities and counties in filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over its unlawful new rule granting health care providers unprecedented authority to deny medically-necessary treatments, services, and information on the basis of religious or moral views.
The lawsuit, filed today in the Southern District of New York against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleges that the rule – which is set to take effect in July 2019 – undermines the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of federally-funded health care institutions, and individuals who work for them, the right to refuse to provide necessary medical care based on the institution’s or individual’s own personal views.
“Access to medically accurate and necessary health care is a basic civil right,” AG Healey said. “Providers should not be able to use their personal beliefs as an excuse to deny needed care. We are suing to protect the lives and health of our residents.”
According to the lawsuit, the new rule drastically expands the number of health care industry workers eligible to deny care, ranging from ambulance drivers and emergency room doctors to receptionists.
“The Massachusetts Medical Society is grateful for Attorney General Healey’s leadership and fully supports the steps taken today,” said Dr. Maryanne C. Bombaugh, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “The ‘refusal of care rule’ is in direct and obvious opposition to our strong commitment that all of our member-physicians will not discriminate in serving the needs of their patients and will always seek to deliver the best possible health care for every patient in the Commonwealth. The rule opens the door for a physician and other practitioners to bring his or her bias into a patient encounter and justify denial of care based on the patient’s racial identification, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, disability, immigration status, or economic status. While the MMS supports the traditional definition of the conscience clause, the new rule expands the longstanding definition of the clause and threatens access to care and the lives of our patients.”
The states and cities argue that the rule interferes with their ability to administer and enforce their own laws that include provisions relating to access to emergency and medically necessary care; prohibitions on abandoning patients; a patient’s right to receive information and ask questions about recommended treatments so they can make well-considered choices about care; access to lawful prescriptions; women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care; and required insurance coverage for contraception and abortion.
According to the lawsuit, the rule would hinder the ability of Massachusetts to enforce its own law requiring the delivery of emergency medical care, including providing emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault.
The lawsuit also argues that the rule would prevent a hospital from inquiring, prior to hiring a nurse, if the individual objects to administering a measles vaccination – even if this was a core duty of the job in the middle of an outbreak of the disease. Under the rule, a doctor could refuse to treat or provide information to transgender patients, who already face discrimination in obtaining medical care.
According to the lawsuit, the rule allows businesses, including employers, to object to providing insurance coverage for their employees for procedures they consider objectionable and allows individual health care personnel the ability to withhold information from patients about their medical options.
The new rule also includes a provision that allows the federal government to withhold billions of dollars in funding from a state or city if it determines the state or city is not complying with the requirements of the new rule.
This places Massachusetts at risk of losing more than $12 billion in federal funding that assists with key public health efforts including substance use and mental health treatment and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention.
The lawsuit specifically argues that the rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act and the Spending Clause and separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.
Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the cities of Chicago and New York, and Cook County, Illinois.