Providers and payers across the country will be expected to adhere to a new HHS policy this week that prevents discrimination against patients based on their gender or gender identity.
Starting July 18, transgender people can enter bathrooms or hospital wards consistent with their gender identity. The rule does not explicitly require insurers to cover gender-transition treatments such as surgery. But insurers could face questions if they deny medically necessary services related to gender transition.
The policy, which carries out anti-bias provisions in the Affordable Care Act, affects any provider or program that accepts federal dollars. Yet in the days leading up to implementation of the rule, there were few signs that providers were ready.
“I have not seen a lot of evidence of (hospitals) actively developing polices and practices around (the rule) so far,” said Tari Hanneman, deputy director of the health and aging program for the Human Rights Campaign.
In March, the HRC found that only 21% of U.S. hospitals have specific policies outlining procedures and practices to eliminate bias and insensitivity toward transgender patients.
The rule empowers HHS to suspend or terminate federal funding to any organization that does not address noncompliance. HHS may also contact the U.S. Justice Department to determine a criminal offense.
Religious hospitals may find the rule especially restrictive and several submitted comments during the rulemaking. But it's unlikely any hospital would ultimately walk away from hundreds of millions in federal reimbursement, Hanneman said. HHS did not offer a blanket religious exemption.