Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill into law on Thursday that LGBTQ advocates have warned will allow health care providers to deny critical medical care to LGBTQ people.
The law — coined the “Let Them Die Act” by opponents — allows health care providers and payers in the state to deny service on the basis of “a conscience-based objection,” including ethical, moral or religious beliefs. The law does not require health care providers and insurers who deny patients care to refer them to another provider.
“This puts patients in harm’s way, is antithetical to the job of healthcare providers, and puts the most vulnerable Floridians in danger,” Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida, told the Pensacola News Journal.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized the law for being overly broad, noting that it allows providers to refuse to provide any type of health care service, including medical research, medical procedures, testing, diagnosis, referral, medication, therapy and recordkeeping. This law also allows health care payers, such as employers, health insurers, or “any other entity that pays for, or arranges for payment of, any health care service,” to discriminate against patients.
“This bill is shocking in its breadth, vagueness, and government overreach into the private sector and regulated businesses,” said Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida. “It goes far beyond any alleged claims of religious freedom, as it applies not just to religious objections but also to ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ beliefs.”
LGBTQ advocates are concerned that the law will enable companies to deny coverage to HIV-positive patients seeking PrEP and trans people seeking gender-affirming care. Opponents of the law have also noted that it could allow practitioners to deny care to people with sexually transmitted infections or allow insurers to refuse to cover contraception.
This law also allows medical professionals to refuse to provide service to anyone for ethical, moral, or religious reasons — including emergency situations, meaning that an emergency responder could refuse to help an unwed mother give birth.
According to the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), more than one in eight LGBTQ people live in a state where they can be refused care by medical providers. Florida now joins Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, and Illinois in permitting medical professionals to deny services to patients based on their religious beliefs — but Florida’s law goes much further than other states by also protecting practitioner’s “rights of conscience,” according to Metro Weekly.
Even in states where medical discrimination against LGBTQ people isn’t legal, many queer and transgender people have experienced medical discrimination. In a 2022 poll by 19th News, 28 percent of LGBTQ respondents said their health care provider was biased or stereotyped them, and 16 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they had been denied medical service. These numbers are expected to increase in tandem with the surge of bills targeting LGBTQ people, specifically trans health care, this legislative session.
According to MAP, right-wing lawmakers have introduced more bills attacking trans people’s access to health care in the first three months of 2023 than in the last six years combined, and more than half of U.S. states lack health care nondiscrimination provisions for transgender people.
These laws will have a direct impact on a community that already faces a high level of medical discrimination, and could lead to transgender patients postponing or avoiding preventive screenings in fear of experiencing discrimination. A 2020 survey by Center for American Progress (CAP) found that 15 percent of LGBTQ people, including one in three transgender people, avoided medical treatment because of discrimination, which is predicted to rise steeply in response to the increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country.
Florida has been leading the country when it comes to legislative attacks on LGBTQ people, and is expected to pass a “record-shattering number of discriminatory measures,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. Beyond legalizing medical discrimination against LGBTQ people, anti-LGBTQ laws in Florida are expected to disrupt 80 percent of gender-affirming care for transgender adults, prohibit access to gender-affirming care for trans youth, and criminalize trans people for using the restroom that matches their gender.
“Our state should be in the business of increasing access to medical care, not giving providers and companies a sweeping carve out of nondiscrimination laws,” said Wolf. “Shame on the governor for putting Floridians’ health at risk to score cheap political points.”