New Regulations from Office of Civil Rights

A recent rule from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is being heralded as a victory for improving health equity and reducing health disparities. The new rule implements the nondiscrimination clause of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557), improves language assistance for those with limited English proficiency and increases communication efforts for people with disabilities.

Section 1557 bars any health plan receiving federal funds from using gender identity as means to deny services to individuals. Using the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the OCR prohibited this type of discrimination, classifying it as a variant of sex discrimination. The George Washington University (GW) Cancer Center applauds the final ruling which will open services to thousands of transgender patients across the country.

Despite this “win” for transgender patients, Section 1557 does not explicitly outline protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer or questioning patients based on orientation alone. In a press release announcing the rule, HHS stated, “While the final rule does not resolve whether discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation status alone is a form of sex discrimination under Section 1557, the rule makes clear that OCR will evaluate complaints that allege sex discrimination related to an individual’s sexual orientation to determine if they involve the sorts of stereotyping that can be addressed under 1557. HHS supports prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination as a matter of policy and will continue to monitor legal developments on this issue” (HHS, 2016).

The GW Cancer Center is deeply committed to providing affirming, culturally sensitive care to LGBTQ patients. As such, we will continue to monitor this ruling through the OCR and inform our LGBTQ communities of any impact it may have upon their treatments.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016, May 13). HHS finalizes rule to improve health equity under the Affordable Care Act. [Press Release] Retrieved from