Friday, May 03, 2019

HHS Adopts Final Rules On Conscience Protection In Health Care; Suit Filed Challenging New Rules

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has submitted for publication in the Federal Register final rules on protecting the conscience rights of health care providers. The rules, set out in a 440-page release (full text), become effective in 60 days.  The Release summarizes the new rules:
This final rule revises existing regulations to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal conscience and anti‐discrimination laws applicable to the Department, its programs, and recipients of HHS funds, and to delegate overall enforcement and compliance responsibility to the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). In addition, this final rule clarifies OCR’s authority to initiate compliance reviews, conduct investigations, supervise and coordinate compliance by the Department and its components, and use enforcement tools otherwise available in existing regulations to address violations and resolve complaints.
New York Times, reporting on the new rules, says in part:
some groups said they feared the provisions were overly broad and could imperil care for patients seeking reproductive health care. They also said it could lead to discrimination against gay or transgender patients and their children, and weaken public health efforts to expand childhood vaccinations.
Yesterday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced that he has filed suit to invalidate the new rules. The complaint (full text) in City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, (ND CA, filed 5/2/2019), alleges in part:
The Final Rule requires the City and County of San Francisco (“City” or “San Francisco”)—in any and all circumstances—to prioritize providers’ religious beliefs over the health and lives of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, and other medically and socially vulnerable populations. If San Francisco refuses to comply, it risks losing nearly $1 billion in federal funds that support critical health care services and other vital functions.
The suit alleges that the new rules are in violation of federal statutes and various constitutional provisions including the Establishment Clause.