The Trump administration has issued a new rule that will allow physicians to deny health care treatment to patients simply because the provider doesn’t favor members of a certain group. This includes LGBTQ individuals, the apparent target of the rule change, yet the damage extends well beyond harming any one population.
Those who may view the targeting of certain disfavored groups as minor infractions that don’t directly affect them should recognize just how far-reaching a danger it is to our democracy to let government-sanctioned discrimination become a new norm in American life.
Perhaps most alarming at this moment, the language of Trump’s rule change is so broad that it could mean limiting treatment and testing options for COVID-19 patients, even for non-LGBTQ individuals. Civil rights groups say the rule could allow health care providers to refuse testing or treatment to any patient who is transgender or gay, but also to anyone who has had an abortion or who doesn’t conform to sex stereotypes — that is, to how someone ought to look or behave in a health worker’s mind.
In addition, the rule restricts insurance coverage for people with disabilities or pre-existing conditions and ends requirements notifying patients of critical information about their rights, including the right to file grievances if they believe they were mistreated.
The rule change essentially invites physicians to break their Hippocratic oath to “do no harm” by abdicating the responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to obtain treatment.
It’s such a radical step that the American Medical Association wrote a 6-page letter to the Health and Human Services Department warning that it “legitimizes unequal treatment of patients by not only providers, health care organizations, and insurers, but also by the government itself — and it will harm patients. Such policy should not be permitted by the U.S. government, let alone proposed by it.”
As a transgender woman and lifelong Republican who once supported President Donald Trump in part due to his campaign promise to be a “real friend” to the LGBTQ community, watching this man consistently break his sacred promise to protect our community has been heartbreaking. That he would make health care harder to access during a global pandemic, which is already devastating the health and livelihoods of millions, is simply unconscionable.
Yet, while Trump has made clear that he aims to eliminate protections for transgender Americans, his actions show that his larger target is the concept of equal treatment itself — for a wide range of vulnerable Americans.
The rule change not only removes legal protections for transgender people but eliminates sexual orientation protections in ten additional regulations; creates broad “religious exemptions” for providers and insurers that will allow them to discriminate based on a range of factors including a person’s sex; and revokes protections for people with limited English proficiency. The changes mean that a health care provider could decline to give a woman medically necessary care simply because he disagrees with her reproductive decisions.
When discrimination becomes permissible in one context, it is truly a slippery slope to allowing it in all kinds of other ones. Already, the administration’s obsession with punishing LGBTQ folks has caught a far wider population in its net. If we legalize the refusal of care for LGBTQ people, what is to stop it from happening with people who belong to a group or have a religious background or share a political affiliation that a provider just doesn’t like? Once the government tells organizations and businesses that they can pick and choose who gets insurance — and even care — based on whether their leaders like or agree with them, how far will we go?
Do we really want to live in a country where the government, or the groups and individuals powerful enough to secure its blessing, determine who gets treated and who doesn’t, potentially deciding who lives and who dies? This sounds more like living in a dictatorship than a democracy. And it’s certainly not what drew me to serve our country as an officer in the U.S. Army.
I have long supported the Republican Party, both ideologically and financially, because of my firm belief in limited government. But using federal policy to license discrimination against vulnerable populations is not limited government, but sectarian overreach.
As a result of the apparent vendetta Trump and his party have against LGBTQ people — and the wrecking ball that their pro-discrimination ideology has taken to our country’s basic principles of fairness and equal treatment, I have been forced to suspend my contributions to the GOP. That saddens me, as does the wasted time and effort I must devote to this battle that would be better spent elsewhere.
I’d far rather put my energy and money toward furthering goals I share with fellow Americans such as helping small businesses survive and thrive, providing medical supplies to those fighting the pandemic, and teaching people about the contributions of our nation’s citizen-soldiers, than to a fight that shouldn’t need to be fought.
Until the party I once loved gets back to basics, I’ll remain politically homeless but always committed to equality, meritocracy and compassion, that is, to America at its best.
Jennifer N. Pritzker is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and president and chief executive of TAWANI Enterprises, which contains the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, the TAWANI Foundation, the Pritzker Military Foundation, and a wealth management, real estate development and preservation company.
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