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New HHS Rule: “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights”

The Trump administration finalized a new 440-page rule Thursday strengthening protections for healthcare workers who refuse to provide care that violates their religious or moral beliefs. The new rule was announced Thursday by President Donald Trump during remarks at the White House Rose Garden on the National Day of Prayer.

The reactions were as expected. Proponents, including pro-life groups, praised the final rule for protecting the religious beliefs and moral convictions of medical professionals. Opponents said the rule will allow discrimination against patients, including women and LGBTQ people.

The final rule does not create any new laws but provides enforcement tools for 25 laws passed by Congress that are already on the books, Roger Severino, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which will enforce the rule, said in a press briefing Thursday.

“We are giving these laws life with this regulation,” said Severino, adding that his agency wants to keep workers from being “bullied” out of healthcare because of their beliefs. The rule will protect providers, individuals and other healthcare entities from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for services such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide. It also includes conscience protections with respect to advance directives, OCR said.

Fears are expressed by opponents of the measure who say it offers few limits on what constitutes a religious or personal belief and who makes those decisions. It opens the door to denial of care for LGBT+ patients seeking surgical transitions or hormone treatment, advocates said.

“The proposed rule had been written extremely broadly,” said Jocelyn Samuels, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

“Providers may believe they have the authorization to turn LGBTQ people away,” Samuels told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“LGBTQ people will feel chilled in seeking medical care.” Read more in Thomson Reuters Foundation News

Among those submitting comments were LeadingAge and the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living.

AHCA / NCAL had requested that HHS not apply the rule to long-term and post-acute care providers, saying it would increase the “regulatory burden” on these providers and take away from time for providing care.

“Staff, residents, and residents’ families from nursing centers, centers providing care for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and assisted living communities that accept Medicaid already have multiple outlets for reporting complaints or concerns,” Lilly Hummel, AHCA / NCAL senior director of policy and program integrity, wrote in submitted comments.

HHS did not exempt such facilities in the final rule. It applies to skilled nursing facilities, continuing care retirement communities, residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities and other residential care facilities, such as group homes, among other types of entities, the agency said.

Read more about this aspect in McKnights Senior Living

Read the 440 page rule

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