Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today joined a coalition of 20 states and two cities in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over a new rule which would allow businesses and individuals to refuse to care for patients on the basis of their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, seeks to stop the final rule from going into effect.
The lawsuit alleges that the rule, which will take effect in July, would undermine the delivery of health care by giving health care institutions and individuals the right to refuse to care for patients based on the provider’s personal views. The rule drastically expands the number of providers eligible to make such refusals without warning, ranging from ambulance drivers to emergency room doctors to receptionists to customer service representatives at insurance companies.
“This is yet another very bad rule coming from a federal agency in terms of its impact on some of our most vulnerable patients. Hospitals and medical providers —and even clerical employees and claims adjustors at all levels —will be able to refuse to perform services because of a previously undisclosed belief. Women who need to access reproductive health care, parents seeking vaccines for their children, or members of marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ community, will suffer,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “The rule is simply too broad. But our failure to comply could result in the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding to Oregon.”
Under the rule, a hospital could not ask, prior to hiring a nurse for example, if (s)he objected to administering a vaccination—even if this was a core duty of the job. Or an emergency room doctor could refuse to provide medical services to a woman whose life is endangered by a problem with her pregnancy.
The rule would also allow businesses, including employers, to object to providing insurance coverage for procedures they consider objectionable, and allow health care personnel to object to informing patients about their medical options or referring them to providers.
The lawsuit further claims that the risk of noncompliance means ending billions of dollars in federal health care funding. If HHS determines, in its sole discretion, that states or cities have failed to comply – through their own actions or the actions of thousands of sub-contractors who deliver health services – the federal government could terminate funding to those states and cities. States and cities rely upon those funds for countless programs to promote the public health of their residents, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and education, and substance abuse and mental health treatment.
In March 2018, when the rule was first proposed, Oregon joined a comment letter filed by the New York Attorney General and other states urging that the rule be withdrawn.
In addition to Oregon, this lawsuit is led by New York Attorney General Letitia James and includes the City of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and the City of Chicago.
The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.