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Attorney General Josh Stein to Federal Government: Stop Health Care Discrimination During a Pandemic

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, April 30, 2020


(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging it not to finalize a proposal that would roll back Affordable Care Act (ACA) anti-discrimination protections at a time when they are most needed to help people get care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every individual needs to be able to access the care they need to get and stay healthy,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “That is more true now than ever. I urge HHS not to enact this proposal, which would allow for discrimination against some of our most vulnerable communities in the midst of a pandemic. I will not stop fighting to protect every North Carolinian’s access to health care.”

The ACA’s “Nondiscrimination in Health and Health Education Programs and Activities”, known as the Section 1557 Rule, is a provision that prohibits discrimination in health care programs, benefits, and services based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, age, or disability. HHS’ proposal would drastically undermine Section 1557 and reduce protections against discrimination for communities of color, women, LBGTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and people with limited English proficiency.

Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is already exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in health care that the ACA attempted to address, particularly in states that have not expanded Medicaid. Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, and recently more than 100 national and local organizations signed on to an open letter to the health care community about how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ population. 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 health care, resulting in adverse health outcomes.

In the letter, Attorney General Stein and a coalition of 24 attorneys general argue that moving forward with this rule in the midst of this unprecedented health care crisis will create unnecessary confusion and administrative burdens for state agencies, health care providers, and patients at a time when the health care system is battling to save lives. 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. The attorneys general warn the administration that making this major regulatory change in the midst of the current crisis is irresponsible and potentially deadly.

Attorney General Stein is joined in sending today’s letter by the Attorneys General of California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter is available here.

More on Attorney General Stein’s work to protect North Carolinians during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484


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