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Cuomo, medical community criticize federal rollback in transgender care

Participants rally at Brooklyn Liberation, a rally for

Participants rally at Brooklyn Liberation, a rally for the black transgender community, in front of the Brooklyn Museum Sunday. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Northwell Health, the largest health system in the state, fired back at a Trump administration rollback of regulations prohibiting health care discrimination against transgender patients. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday it was erasing an Obama-era Affordable Care Act provision that specifically protected transgender people.

The HHS said it would return to the “interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology. The 2016 Rule declined to recognize sexual orientation as a protected category under the ACA, and HHS will leave that judgment undisturbed.”

Critics, however, said the move was made to single out transgender people.

Cuomo called the move “repugnant.” 

“While the Trump administration limits health care for marginalized communities, in New York we have expanded coverage and enshrined the critical protections from the Affordable Care Act into state law,” Cuomo said in a statement. “During a time of so much violence against the transgender community in particular, my message to them is simple: We have your back, your health care will not be jeopardized because of this rule.”

The state in 2018 had passed regulations prohibiting health care providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients. Cuomo said that was done in anticipation of potential rollbacks of key ACA provisions.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, which has about 72,000 employees and operates about 800 outpatient facilities in New York, said the rollback won’t impact its transgender patients when they’re in New York.

Still, Dr. David Rosenthal, the medical director for Northwell’s Center for Transgender Care, said there could be significant impact when their patients travel to other states. 

“The trans community may be small, but it’s just as important,” Rosenthal said, “We see transgender patients in every discipline. While some may want hormone treatment or surgery, a vast majority of them come in for all the same reasons as everyone else.”

Health care associations, including the American Medical Association, also panned the HHS decision.

"Respect for the diversity of patients is a fundamental value of the medical profession and is reflected in long-standing AMA policy opposing discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or a woman's decision about pregnancy, including termination," said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, the organization's president, in a statement.

Charlie Arrowood, a South Huntington-based solo practitioner at Arrowood Law, said they're  concerned that while New York has "robust, explicit protections for transgender people, there is always a chance that a few bad apples with be emboldened by the HHS rollback."

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a victory for LGBT rights on Monday, and Arrowood said they're  optimistic this will protect transgender people further. The high court ruled that a landmark civil rights law also protects gay and transgender employees against workplace discrimination.

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