Civil Rights and Health Advocates Express Strong Concerns about HHS’s Draft Strategic Plan

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updates its strategic plan every four years, and last month invited the public to comment on its draft plan for FY 2018–2022. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, members of our Health Care Task Force, and other stakeholders submitted comments to the agency with concerns about the draft plan and recommendations to ensure that the opportunity to access quality health care and live a healthy life is equally available to all.

Chief among our concerns is that the draft plan fails to mention Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which builds on longstanding federal civil rights laws and is the first federal civil rights law to prohibit sex discrimination in health care. As our comments state, “Section 1557 must be fully implemented and robustly enforced by HHS to ensure that HHS’ programs and activities, and those it supports with federal funds, are responsive to consumer demands and serve the purposes of the ACA to reduce barriers and expand access to health care and coverage.”

The draft plan actually excludes LGBTQ people as a population altogether. This is extremely troubling, as the record shows that LGBTQ individuals consistently face health care discrimination, including verbal abuse, physical abuse, and outright refusals of treatment. This is especially true for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.

In addition to the robust implementation and enforcement of Section 1557, The Leadership Conference also urges HHS to:

  • Adopt a broad definition of health care disparities in its strategic plan, which includes not only racial and ethnic health disparities but also disparities based on language, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
  • Remove all language that could threaten women’s access to a broad array of health care services, including reproductive health care services.
  • Remain religiously and morally neutral in its funding and activities to ensure that individuals do not feel proselytized by providers or receive access to a limited scope of services due to the moral or religious nature of an organization.

Access to quality, affordable health care is a civil and human right. The Leadership Conference and our Health Care Task Force urge HHS to ensure that all people in the United States can access quality, affordable health care, without discrimination.

Read comments from The Leadership Conference, members of our Health Care Task Force, and other stakeholders:

In September, advocates held a press call to explain why Section 1557 of the ACA is integral to the law and how revising it will limit access to comprehensive health care for women and LGBTQ people. Click here to read statements from advocates and to listen to a recording of the call.

This story is cross-posted on our Medium page here.