Federal judge blocks HHS rule protecting LGBTQ+ patients from discrimination

Anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ patients in the healthcare setting cannot be enforced, a federal judge in Mississippi ruled Wednesday.

In a preliminary injunction, the judge cited the Supreme Court's recent overturning of Chevron deference, a landmark ruling that weakened the power of federal agencies. The judge also argued that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was wrong to rely on a previous SCOTUS decision to apply protections on the basis of sex to gender identity. 

Earlier this year, HHS finalized the rule that aimed to expand Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act by codifying protections against discrimination based on sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This was clarified in an Obama-era rule, which was later rolled back by the Trump administration. 

In 2022, the Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that the prohibition of sex discrimination in the workplace includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Based on that ruling, the Biden administration directed agencies to interpret Bostock to apply not just to Title VII, which deals with the workplace, but to other areas of law like healthcare where sex discrimination is prohibited. 

The judge on Wednesday ruled that HHS had wrongly conflated protections on the basis of sex with gender identity and wrongly extended Bostock protections to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded programs. The judge acknowledged that some circuit courts have applied Bostock in Title IX cases.

In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign condemned the injunction, warning that the decision may encourage discrimination, potential denial of coverage and denial of care in emergencies.

“The discrimination LGBTQ+ people will continue to experience under this injunction is indefensible,” the campaign's president, Kelley Robinson, said in a statement. “This ruling is not only morally wrong, it's also bad policy. Everyone deserves access to the medical care they need to be healthy and thrive.”