Affordable Care Act, healthcare, Obamacare — March 27, 2017 at 6:31 pm

Trump puts anti-LGBT activist in charge of civil rights office at Health and Human Services


Roger Severino has actively fought LGBT equality, including provisions of the Affordable Care Act that protect LGBT people and others.

While we were busy trying to thwart the terrible American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week, President Trump was quietly appointing a terrible Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/OCR): Roger Severino, an anti-LGBT extremist who has spent much of his career demeaning and marginalizing LGBT Americans.

Until the appointment last week, Severino served as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the Heritage Foundation. Yes, as in the family of Betsy DeVos, who as Secretary of Education under Trump isn’t too sure about the rights of LGBT kids, especially transgender kids.

In his role at the Heritage Foundation, Severino authored a report opposing OCR’s implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability and sex in federally funded health programs. It’s worth noting that Section 1557 doesn’t just protect LGBT people, but they are particularly at risk for discrimination.

Severino has called the efforts of agencies such as OCR to protect transgender people from discrimination an “abuse of power” wielded “to coerce everyone…into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.” Contrary to the conclusions of most courts that have considered the issue, Severino has claimed that applying Section 1557 to gender identity discrimination constitutes a “radical” “redefining” of sex discrimination that is “not justified” by the law.

Further, Severino has falsely asserted that HHS’s 1557 rule “create[s] special privileges based on gender identity” that can “force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries” even when they are not medically necessary. The fact is that Section 1557 does no such thing. And these medical treatments — which Severino calls “controversial” — are supported by decades of research and the opinions of well-respected medical societies including the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians, among others, as being medically necessary for many patients.

“By appointing Mr. Severino to enforce the life-saving protections that he has made his personal mission to dismantle, the Trump administration has once again put the fox in charge of the hen house,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), in a statement, continued below:

[Severino] has has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career, while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people — repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives — betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender. Mr. Severino is now in a position to transform his dangerous rhetoric into action that can inflict serious harm on the lives of millions of Americans. We cannot let this happen.

Severino isn’t just anti-LGBT. He’s also taken actions that discriminate against women. He strongly opposed HHS’s commonsense interpretation of Section 1557 to apply to discrimination related to pregnancy termination, including denying care to patients just because they have previously had an abortion. He has been a staunch opponent of access to contraception and other sexual and reproductive health services, opposing the ACA’s contraceptive access provision and calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Most alarming of all, Severino’s 2016 Heritage report calls for repealing the ACA, including the nondiscrimination provision he is now charged with enforcing. Thanks to a lawsuit applauded by Severino, one district court judge issued a nationwide injunction last year barring enforcement of parts of the 1557 rule by HHS. In a highly unusual step, the Trump Justice Department declined to appeal that sweeping order.

Civil rights groups have expressed deep concern about Severino’s appointment. Given his extreme views opposing the rights of LGBT people and women — views that brought him to prominence on the far right — they are justifiably worried about the fact that Severino will be in charge of enforcing the very same civil rights protections he has worked to undermine.

A joint statement was issued by NCTE, the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Health Law Program, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women’s Law Center and Out2Enroll questioning Severino’s ability to faithfully and impartially enforce the ACA and protect LGBT people from discrimination.

At a minimum, we call for Director Severino and any other Trump appointee who has worked against the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections to recuse themselves from decisions related to its enforcement.

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus has also issued a statement denouncing the appointment.

Severino’s appointment is yet another example of President Trump and HHS Secretary Tom Price’s increasingly long list of compromised nominees who have alarming conflicts of interest — and now, the opportunity to abuse their power guided by ideology, not law or fact. Especially when you consider that Severino’s boss at HHS is Price, who has frequently advocated for discriminatory policies that would hurt LGBT people and women during his career.

“Frankly, it is sick that President Trump would appoint Roger Severino to lead OCR – putting a man who made his career opposing healthcare nondiscrimination laws in charge of enforcing those very same protections,” said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President for External Affairs of CAP, in a statement. “Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies routinely denied equal treatment to same-sex couples and more than half of private insurance plans explicitly discriminated against transgender patients, with more than a quarter of transgender people reported being denied medical care by a provider. Severino’s writing makes it clear that he wants to take us back to the days when 1 in 4 transgender people was refused medical care outright.”

The law’s protections remain in place — for now — but Severino’s anti-LGBT and anti-women positions make it clear that advocates for equality and healthcare justice have their work cut out for them.

Although the news of Severino’s appointment is troubling, Katie Keith, a steering committee member at Out2Enroll, has an important message for the LGBT community.

“This appointment is deeply disappointing – and we will fight any attempt at rolling back protections for LGBTQ people – but we want the community to know that nothing has changed when it comes to their rights under the Affordable Care Act. Although this appointment signals the possibility of potential changes in the future, LGBTQ people are still protected when it comes to health care and health insurance and should contact a legal organization if they face any type of discrimination.”

All of us who celebrated the AHCA’s defeat last week knew the honeymoon couldn’t last. But we proved that we can organize and win. Now just have to keep doing it.

If you have questions about your rights under Section 1557 of the ACA, visit Out2Enroll.

[Graphic credits: Photo by Anne Savage; graphic courtesy of Out2Enroll.]