Texas Federal Judge blocks Anti-Discrimination provision of ACA

Capping off a long list of shocking news in 2016, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction on December 31, 2016, which effectively halts some of the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) anti-discrimination protections.  The case is Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell, No. 16-108 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 31, 2016).

As we previously shared, Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits doctors, hospitals and healthcare plans—that receive federal funding—from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age or sex.  Under recently published federal regulations, discrimination on the basis of “sex” includes discrimination based on an individual’s “gender identity” or “termination of a pregnancy.”

Several states and religious groups challenged these regulations in Texas on the basis that they would force doctors to violate their religious beliefs, or else forfeit federal funds.  The Texas court responded by issuing a temporary injunction blocking the anti-discrimination regulations.  While the injunction blocking the regulations is not yet permanent, the Texas court has plainly hinted at its future permanent ruling—siding in favor of the states and religious groups who brought suit.

It should be noted that nothing in the anti-discrimination regulations forces doctors or other covered entities to provide gender transition services or abortions.

Meanwhile, civil rights groups, labor organizations and others are organizing in broad opposition to the Trump Administration’s anticipated agenda, including its possible repeal of the ACA.  Despite the pending Trump Administration and the injunction, legal efforts are underway across the nation, and particularly in states like California, to retain and fortify the advances made over the last decade.

The looming Trump Presidency and the uncertain future of the ACA mean that covered entities—including benefit plans—should exercise caution and not move too quickly in any direction with respect to changing their practices.  At this critical juncture, despite the Texas injunction, covered entities may be well-advised to continue to follow their current practices with regard to the ACA’s prohibitions against discrimination.

For more information or to discuss strategies moving forward please contact your Trust Fund counsel. 

By Ryan Kadevari | January 19, 2017

Legal Developments