A federal court in New York yesterday voided the Trump administration’s dangerous Denial of Care Rule that threatened the health care of millions of people. Americans United hailed U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Engelmayer’s ruling in a statement.
Engelmayer’s ruling leans heavily on questions of process and regulation. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), he ruled, lacks the authority to issue this kind of rule. Asserting that HHS’s approach “was sufficiently shot through with glaring legal defects,” Engelmayer invalidated the entire rule nationwide.
The judge also saw through the Trump administration’s facile justification for the rule. Officials at HHS had cited a “significant increase” in complaints from health care workers who said their religious freedom rights were violated. Engelmayer called this “factually untrue,” observing, “Where HHS claimed that the rule was justified by complaints made to it, the administrative record reflects a yawning evidentiary gap.”
AU is thankful for the decision in this case, but there’s one thing it doesn’t delve into: the human angle. At the end of the day, the Denial of Care Rule isn’t just about the rule-making process, which can often seem byzantine. It’s about real people, real stories and real harm. We should never forget that.
Americans United wasn’t involved in the New York case, but we are participating in two similar challenges to the Denial of Care Rule pending the courts, one from California and one from Maryland. As we built these cases, we made sure to highlight the views of people on the front lines – men and women who work in the medical community and who understand the damage this reckless rule can do.
Rebecca S. Dineen, assistant commissioner for the Baltimore City Health Department Bureau of Maternal and Child Health, explained that for many city residents, enforcement of the Denial of Care Rule could have drastic consequences.
“Refusals under such a rule would result in denials of timely care to Baltimore residents, and it is hard to overstate the harms that would follow, both for individual patients denied care and for public health in Baltimore at the population level,” Dineen said.
Emergency care could also be affected. Incredibly, the rule allows anyone involved in the health care field to deny services that offend their religious beliefs – even in emergency situations. James Matz, battalion chief of emergency medical services for the Fire Department of Baltimore City, explained in court documents that this could put lives at stake.
“[T]he Rule will create an impossible dilemma for Baltimore EMS and will endanger the lives of the people we serve,” Matz said. “If any employee on a medic unit decided, at the scene of a call, that they could not perform their job for religious, moral, or ‘other’ reasons, the results could be catastrophic.”
The rule also harms members of vulnerable populations. Sara Cody, director of the Santa Clara County, Calif., Public Health Department, estimated about 25 percent of the county’s population is considered vulnerable because they are members of the LGBTQ community, low-income residents, people who abuse controlled substances or pregnant young women.
“[The Denial of Care Rule] would compromise the Public Health Department’s ability to prevent public health emergencies and outbreaks, to prevent chronic diseases, to provide equal opportunity to vulnerable children for a healthy start and optimal health, and to foster healthy families and healthy communities,” Cody said.
AU will continue challenging the Denial of Care Rule in the courts. And as these cases go forward, we’ll keep reminding Americans about how radical this rule is. Americans should never have to worry that they won’t get the crucial, and possibly life-saving, care they need because they are LGBTQ, a member of a religious minority, an atheist or because they fall short of someone else’s religious views. That’s a fundamental violation of our rights, and AU simply won’t stand for it.
Not only are we still in court on behalf of the plaintiffs in our cases, but the Trump administration is sure to appeal the New York judge’s ruling. If you can, please support our efforts to strike down the Denial of Care Rule for good.