In a major win for the transgender community, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said that the Affordable Care Act's ban on sex-based discrimination includes transgender Americans.
In a letter shared with Whispers by the National Center on Transgender Equality, HHS writes:
"We agree that... sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity."
HHS also wrote that the Affordable Care Act prohibits sexual harassment based on gender. The HHS letter came in response to a letter from a number of LGBT organizations, including the NCTE, that asked for clarity on the law.
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The Affordable Care Act, often called "Obamacare," is a 2010 federal law that overhauled the U.S. health care system. As one of its provisions to be implemented by January 2014, the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from discriminating against or charging higher rates for any person based on gender.
Studies show that transgender people have often faced discrimination while trying to get health care. A 2011 National Center on Transgender Equality report on transgender discrimination, for example, found that one in five people in the transgender community had been denied care by a medical provider. The survey also found that transgender patients were mistreated by ambulance workers and turned away by doctors.
The HHS letter comes on the heels of a similar victory in April, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that an employer who discriminates against an employee based on gender identity is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At the time, Washington's gay news publication Metroweekly wrote that while the EEOC decision was welcomed, federal protection was needed. Now, at least in part, that's come.
"While we still need explicit federal laws, this means that HHS will accept complaints from people who are discriminated against while receiving federal health care money," said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. "Folks need to know they have that option."