Attorney General Ford Sues Trump Administration to Halt Rule Allowing Discrimination in Providing Health Care

May 21, 2019

Carson City, NV - Today, Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford joined a coalition of 23 cities, states and municipalities in a lawsuit filed against a Final Rule issued by the Trump Administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would greatly expand the ability of businesses and individuals to refuse to provide necessary health care, without notice, based on one's "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The federal lawsuit seeks to enjoin the Final Rule and prevent it from going into effect. Today's suit follows up on a comment letter issued by a coalition of states in March 2018 when the rule was first proposed, urging that the rule be withdrawn. 

    “The Department of Health and Human Services’ rule would allow individuals and entire institutions to deny lawful and medically necessary care to patients, even in cases of emergencies,” said AG Ford. “I join with other states and cities around the country to halt this rule that will substantially change the delivery of health care at the expense of patients who need access to medically necessary care.”

      The lawsuit alleges that the Final Rule, which will take effect in July 2019, would undermine the delivery of health care by giving a wide range of health care institutions and individuals a right to refuse care, based on the provider’s own personal views. The Rule drastically expands the number of providers eligible to make such refusals, ranging from ambulance drivers to emergency room doctors, receptionists and customer service representatives at insurance companies. The Rule makes this right absolute and categorical: no matter what reasonable steps a health provider or employer makes to accommodate the views of an objecting individual, if that individual rejects a proposed accommodation, a provider or employer is left with no recourse.

        Under the Rule, a hospital nurse could refuse to administer a measles vaccination-even if this was a core duty of the job in the middle of an outbreak of the disease. Similarly, an emergency room doctor could refuse to assist a woman who arrived with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, even if the woman's life was in jeopardy.  

          The Rule would also allow businesses, including employers, to object to providing insurance coverage for procedures they consider objectionable, and allow individual health care personnel to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers of those options. The devastating consequences of the Rule would fall particularly hard on marginalized patients, including LGBTQ patients, who already confront discrimination in obtaining health care.  

            The lawsuit further alleges that the risk of noncompliance is the termination of billions of dollars in federal health care funding. If HHS determines, in its sole discretion, that states or cities have failed to comply with the Final Rule–through their own actions or the actions of thousands of sub-contractors relied upon to deliver health services–the federal government could terminate funding to those states and cities, to the price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars. States and cities rely upon these funds for countless programs to promote the public health of their residents, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and education, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.

              The lawsuit argues that this drastic expansion of refusal rights, and the threat of termination of federal funds, violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act and the Spending Clause and separation of powers principles in the U.S. Constitution.

                In addition to Nevada, other states and cities joining this lawsuit include:

                the City of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, the City of Chicago, and Cook County, Illinois.  

                  A copy of the complaint is attached.