The Health and Human Services Department's Office for Civil Rights has altered language on its website relating to discrimination under the Affordable Care Act, which experts say could signal an upcoming change in discrimination policy, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The change was first discovered by staff at the National Women's Law Center.
Section 1557 of the ACA allows the HHS to prohibit all types of sex discrimination in healthcare services, including based on sex, pregnancy, and gender identity. But some religiously affiliated healthcare providers have argued that this would "require them to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions," court records say.
While their lawsuit is still ongoing, the language on the website has been changed so that one's sex and pregnancy status are still protected, but gender identity and sex stereotyping are not. Advocates are arguing that this keeps women and LGBTQ people, particularly those who are transgender and gender-nonconforming, from accessing crucial resources they need.
"The Department of Health and Human Services has sent a clear signal that it doesn’t intend to protect the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals," the Democratic National Committee LGBTQ media director Lucas Acosta and women’s media director Elizabeth Renda said in a joint statement. "The Trump-Pence administration’s decision to hide these resources — and the likely forthcoming action from HHS to roll back enforcement of discrimination protections — is shameful and part of a continued effort to rip away access to medical care for women and LGBTQ people."
This isn't the first time the Trump administration has removed resources for women and LGBTQ people from one of the HHS websites. Back in April, the HHS deleted the breast cancer website and related resources on womenshealth.gov, which, according to Politico, included information about "ACA provisions that require coverage of free mammograms for some women" and a "free CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] screening program for low-income women."
HHS has claimed that these removals were part of routine updates. After pressure from patient advocacy groups, the agency posted a new page on breast cancer.
"The Trump-Pence administration might be able to delete language on a webpage, but they can’t erase women and LGBTQ people," said the DNC.