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AG Nessel Urges HHS Not to Finalize Rule Permitting Health Care Discrimination During COVID-19 Pandemic

The proposed rule would eliminate protections against discrimination for women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable populations

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today joined a coalition of her colleagues from across the nation in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) not to finalize its proposed regulation, “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs or Activities” (Section 1557 Rule). Section 1557 is an anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age or disability. But if the proposed changes to that provision are finalized, they would undermine the ACA’s critical anti-discrimination protections at a time when they are needed most to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we know for sure about COVID-19 is that it doesn’t discriminate and the federal government should want to do everything it can to ensure it doesn’t restrict life-saving care or create unnecessary administrative burdens and confusion for state agencies, health care providers and patients,” said Nessel. “This virus is the one enemy we all can and must be committed to fighting against. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate against who it hurts. The government shouldn’t discriminate against who it helps.”

A video message from AG Nessel on this important issue is available here.

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.

Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in health care that the ACA was designed to help mitigate, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid.

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.

Data suggests that increased access to health care could assist with prompt COVID-19 detection and increase early treatment, which helps diminish spread of the disease. For these reasons, the attorneys general warn the federal government that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the current crisis is not only irresponsible, it is potentially deadly

Today’s letter isn’t the first time that Nessel and a coalition have voiced their concerns about this proposed rule. Months before the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of AGs condemned the current administration’s attempt to eliminate anti-discrimination protections in health care.

“We explained these concerns to the federal government last year and asked them to reconsider and withdraw this proposal due to its negative affect on millions of people across this country and in our state, but they didn’t listen to us,” Nessel added.

Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin in sending this letter.

A copy of the letter is available here.