03/23/2018

AFT objects to HHS rule that could limit access to care

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The Department of Health and Human Services announced a proposed rule earlier this year that broadens ways in which health professionals can refuse to provide service because of religious or moral objections.

HHS claims that workers should not be forced to choose between their faith and their desire to help patients, but healthcare workers already have the right—under law and policy—to refuse to participate in procedures due to their religious convictions. As a result, the AFT believes that this proposed rule interferes with a patients' right to receive healthcare.

Nurse with crossed arms

"Healthcare providers and their employers know and exercise these rights, and balance them with their professional obligation and ethics to provide care to all those in need," AFT President Randi Weingarten says in a letter to HHS.

This proposal moves far beyond the interpretation of existing federal provisions for the protection of conscience. It would allow providers to deny care—while receiving federal funds—to certain patients.

"Under the guise of providing rights to healthcare providers," this proposed rule places government between providers and patients, says Weingarten. "We believe it would both limit access for many vulnerable patients and potentially worsen outcomes if patients are denied care, or if medically necessary care or referrals for care are delayed."

Some key points about the proposed rule:

  • This proposed rule would duplicate, as well as unnecessarily broaden, the scope of already existing laws that provide health professionals with the right to refuse to participate in specific procedures based on religious or moral conscience.
  • The rule expands the enforcement authority of a newly created division within the Office for Civil Rights and the grounds upon which someone can object, including not only religious objections, but also moral and other objections.
  • This proposed rule potentially places a barrier in front of patients in need of medically necessary and preventive care, going far beyond women's reproductive services, and encompasses objections a healthcare worker may have to providing either services or referrals for vaccinations, end-of-life care, mental health screening and treatment, even screenings for child abuse or neglect.
  • The patients affected could include children whose health and well-being could be threatened if a pediatrician is unable to properly investigate neglect or abuse. The chilling effect of this rule could prevent healthcare providers from providing medically necessary care.
  • The proposed rule moves far beyond the interpretation of existing federal provisions such as the Church, Coats and Weldon amendments; Affordable Care Act and IRS language; and public health laws and hospital policies that already exist to provide protection to individuals and health facilities that refuse to participate in certain procedures based on religious objections.
  • Healthcare workers already have the right, under law and policy, to refuse to participate in a specific procedure due to their religious convictions. Healthcare providers and their employers know and exercise these rights, and balance their rights with their professional obligation and ethics to provide care to all those in need.  

Public comments on the proposed rule are due March 27. Add your voice in opposition.

[Adrienne Coles]