Health Law

Ongoing lawsuits delay start date for health care 'conscience rights' rule

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A new federal rule that will allow health care workers to refuse to provide medical care based on religious or moral grounds will go into effect in November instead of July as initially scheduled.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which issued the Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care rule in May, agreed to delay its nationwide implementation “in light of significant litigation over the rule,” NPR reports. CNN and Reuters also have coverage.

Several groups, including New York state and 23 state and local governments, are suing the federal government over the rule. According to NPR, Santa Clara County in California, along with other plaintiffs, filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect before a court considered the case.

James Williams, county counsel for Santa Clara, told NPR that “the federal government actually reached out to all the plaintiffs in all of the different cases and basically said that they didn’t want to have to deal with a preliminary injunction.”

In a statement provided to NPR, an HHS spokesperson said the delay will “allow the parties more time to respond to the litigation and to grant entities affected by the rule more time to prepare for compliance.”

According to NPR, federal judges in California and New York have certified the change.

While the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights only received about one “conscience rights” complaint per year for about a decade, it received 343 complaints last year, NPR reports.

The new rule will permit health care workers, as well as billing staff and receptionists, to file a complaint with the office if they are forced to participate in abortions, gender confirmation surgeries, assisted suicide and any other medical care that violates their moral or religious grounds.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Multistate suit challenges federal ‘conscience’ rule over health care refusals on religious grounds”

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