Thursday, November 21, 2019

Court Sets Aside New Health Care Conscience Rules

In City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, (ND CA, Nov. 19, 2019), a California federal district court set aside rules adopted earlier this year by the Department of Health and Human Services to give additional protection to conscience rights of health care providers. The court said in part:
With the minor exceptions noted below, the new rule is purely an interpretive rule, not a legislative rule. An agency, of course, must interpret a statute under its care. But an interpretation, even if cast in the form of a regulation, is nothing more than that — an interpretation. The statute itself is what has the force of law, not the interpretation. No interpretation can add or subtract from the actual scope of the statute itself. If the agency misconstrues a statute, then the statute controls, not the interpretation.....
... Congress tried to strike a balance between two competing considerations. One consideration was recognition that, due to religious or ethical beliefs, some doctors, nurses, and hospitals, among others, wanted no part in the performing of abortions and sterilizations, among other medical procedures, and Congress wanted to protect them from discrimination for their refusal to perform them. The countervailing consideration was recognition of the need to preserve the effective delivery of health care to Americans, including to those seeking, for example, abortions and sterilizations. Every doctor or nurse, for example, who bowed out of a procedure for religious or ethical reasons became one more doctor or nurse whose shifts had to be covered by someone else, a burden on the healthcare system. Congress struck a balance between these two opposing considerations.
In reading the rule in question, the Court sees a persistent and pronounced redefinition of statutory terms that significantly expands the scope of protected conscientious objections. As laudable as that sounds, however, it would come at a cost — a burden on the effective delivery of health care to Americans in derogation of the actual balance struck by Congress.
California's Attorney General issued a press release commenting on the decision.  KPIX5 reports on the decision.