The following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra co-led 21 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw a proposed regulation that seriously undermines critical anti-discrimination protections for communities of color, disabled people, women, LGBTQ individuals, and those with limited English proficiency in health care, at a time when they are most needed to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s absurd that the White House wants to roll back protections for critical life-saving care for some of our most vulnerable communities in the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis,” AG Healey said. “The Trump Administration should focus on expanding access to care, rather than discriminating against those hit hard by COVID-19. They should withdraw this dangerous rule immediately.”
The proposed regulation specifically seeks to roll back the “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” rule, which implements Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a letter sent to HHS today, the attorneys general argue that the new regulation would risk restricting access to care and aiding in the spread of the coronavirus. The attorneys general further argue that the rule will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, health care providers, and patients at a critical time for the healthcare system.
Joining AG Healey and AG Becerra in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.
Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare that the ACA attempted to address. Immigrants and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and recently more than 100 national and local organizations signed on to an open letter to the healthcare community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population.
Individuals with disabilities are at greater risk of infection, and the pandemic has created new barriers for them in accessing the care they need. The public health crisis has also exacerbated gender inequities in the healthcare system.
HHS itself has long noted that discrimination within the healthcare system contributes to poor coverage and health outcomes and worsens existing disparities in underserved communities. Individuals who have experienced discrimination in healthcare often postpone or forgo needed care, resulting in adverse health outcomes.
Finalizing the rule, the attorneys general argue, will create distrust among vulnerable populations, who are at greater risk of contracting the virus.
AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division enforces federal and state civil rights laws. The Division encourages residents who feel their civil rights have been violated to call its hotline at (617) 963-2917 or file a complaint online. The AG’s Office has ramped up its outreach efforts to underserved communities that are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic to ensure that they have access to the resources and care they need. This week, AG Healey issued guidance to ensure that the rights of disabled residents are protected during the pandemic.