Another state is making it harder for LGBTQ+ patients to access healthcare. Ohio lawmakers snuck a provision into a 2,400-page budget bill at the eleventh hour that allows doctors to deny healthcare to members of the LGBTQ+ community if they object on religious, ethical, or moral grounds. Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed the bill into law, creating an uproar among advocates for the queer community.
It’s also the latest bill that restricts what kind of procedures these individuals can receive, including gender confirmation surgery.
The Freedom to Decline Care
The provision says that every medical provider, from doctors and nurses to researchers and lab techs, as well as anyone paying for care, namely the insurance companies, has “the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner’s, institution’s, or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.”
However, the bill doesn’t allow providers or insurers to deny care to an individual simply because they identify as LGBTQ+. Instead, the law “is limited to conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.” The provider is “responsible for providing all appropriate health care services, other than the particular health care service that conflicts with the medical practitioner’s beliefs or convictions, until another medical practitioner or facility is available.”
The governor signed the provision into law last Thursday, even though his critics say he could have vetoed the provision regarding LGBTQ+ care while still approving the rest of the state’s budget.
The language targeting LGBTQ+ individuals was first introduced back in June, and advocates for the community were quick to sound the alarm, saying the provision could make it harder for queer individuals to access the care they need.
With the new law in place, providers will be able to deny PrEP to LGBTQ+ patients looking to protect themselves against the spread of HIV, refuse gender-confirming surgery to transgender individuals, as well as puberty blockers for non-binary patients.
The medical community was quick to lambast the state’s decision.
“The implications of this policy are immense and could lead to situations where patient care is unacceptably compromised,” wrote the Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio State Medical Association, and the Ohio Association of Health Plans.
Equality Ohio referred to the law as a “license to discriminate,” while the Human Rights Campaign said it could jeopardize “the medical well being of more than 380,000 LGBTQ people in Ohio.”
Restricting Access for LGBTQ+ Americans
Gov. DeWine shrugged off criticism of the new law by insisting that it wouldn’t change the standard of care in the state.
“This is not a problem,” the governor told reporters. “If there’s other things that maybe a doctor has a problem with, it’s worked out. Somebody else does those things.” He seemed to be referring to a vague clause in the law that says medical professionals should “attempt to transfer the patient to a colleague who will provide the requested procedure,” as long as making that referral doesn’t violate their conscience as well. But it’s not clear if this clause will help LGBTQ+ patients access the care they need.
Being transferred to a new provider isn’t always an option. Over a quarter of the state’s population lives in rural areas, where LGBTQ+ healthcare services tend to be limited. Queer seniors living in nursing homes may also have trouble finding a new provider or place to live if they are denied care.
Advocates for the queer community say the provision would’ve failed on its own, so lawmakers snuck it into the state’s two-year budget bill as a last resort.
“They know that they couldn’t pass this on its merits as a standalone bill, because literally no one is asking for this to be passed,” said Dominic Detwiler, a public policy strategist for Equality Ohio.
Denying queer Americans access to healthcare has become a pillar of our nation’s culture wars. Over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have already been introduced in red states across the country this year alone, making it the worst year for this kind of legislation on record. The Human Rights Campaign says at least 17 bills have already become law, breaking the 2015 record when 15 bills were signed into law. The group says most of these bills were the result of a coordinated effort between anti-LGBTQ+ groups, not voters.
We’ve seen several states try to deny healthcare to LGBTQ+ individuals, while banning trans student athletes from playing on the team that aligns with their gender. Most of these laws have been passed in the Dakotas, Arkansas, Montana, and Mississippi.
Ohio has now been added to this list.
We may see more states enact similar legislation down the line.