Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Provider Conscience Rule Poses Significant Barriers

On December 18, 2008, the Bush Administration issued a new rule that would dramatically change federal law and enable individuals and institutions that receive federal funding to refuse providing medically appropriate healthcare services and information to patients because of their own religious, moral or personal objections to those services. The new rule, known as the “Provider Conscience Regulation,” completely ignores the needs of patients and the promotion of adequate public health.

Many organizations and individuals including medical providers, religious leaders, reproductive health providers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) leaders amongst many others submitted over 200,000 public comments opposing this rule change. The comments expressed strong concern that these new rules will be interpreted to undermine statutes guaranteeing access to family planning and basic preventative care and emergency treatments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients.

The United States Code already has sufficient protections for religious freedom, yet supporters of this rule aim to expand these protections beyond family planning services (i.e. abortion) to include common forms of birth control and basic healthcare for LGBT patients. Naturally, this rule change will pose significant barriers for people who have limited or no choice in where they can obtain medical care. Available services such as family planning, reproductive services and end of life decisions will be drastically limited in rural and low-income communities where there may be only one clinic, hospital or provider available.

Clearly this regulation could have profound effects on a patient’s ability to access certain healthcare services - transgender and gender non-conforming people are particularly vulnerable and may experience a significant rate of provider refusals for basic services such as preventive care or emergency treatment. Even with the rule scheduled to take effect on January 18, 2009 we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the majority of healthcare providers will continue to honor the Hippocratic Oath and treat all patients appropriately, rising above the prejudices of the very few who support such an unethical rule.

An overwhelming number of organizations, including PFLAG National, are working in coalition with the incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tom Daschle, along with members of Congress in an effort to repeal this immoral rule. If you are interested in learning more about the Provider Conscience Regulation, please visit Regulations.gov where you can review the rule’s content along with the public comments opposing such a change. If you want to express your opposition to this new rule, please be sure to contact your Congressional Representatives and urge them to repeal this rule before it is implemented.

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