Ohio Sneaks Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination Law Into Budget Bill

Dr. Jeff Livingston

Health providers can now refuse to treat LGBTQ patients based on moral beliefs.

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Pride flag in Cleveland, OhioPhoto Lexi Ross Istock/ Getty Images

As June's Pride Month comes to a close, Ohio Governor Mike Dewine signed an anti-LGBTQ bill into law allowing medical professionals to refuse to treat any patient over moral or religious beliefs. The religious objection provision did not come up in Congress for a stand-alone vote. Instead, the legislation was buried inside of the 2,438-page budget bill which passed last week.

Based on the wording of the law, Ohio health providers and insurance companies have “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.”

Women's health advocates and the LGBTQ community are sounding the alarm. The sweepingly broad language opens the doors to discriminatory practices by health providers and insurance companies who fail to remember that the patient always comes first.

The wording of the law goes way beyond issues of sexuality and gender. The law permits any healthcare provider to deny any medical services based on religious or moral objections. The law is not limited to abortion services, contraceptive coverage, transgender care, or HIV medications. The legislation allows the individual provider to make a determinative choice of who they want to treat.

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Hospital Emergency Department SignPhoto MJFelt Istock/Getty Images

The Federal EMTALA Act prohibits the US Health system from turning its backs on any patient in need of emergency care stating, "EMTALA requires Medicare-participating hospitals with emergency departments to screen and treat the emergency medical conditions of patients in a non-discriminatory manner to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, insurance status, national origin, race, creed or color.

Ohio Governor Dewine's bill provides a workaround for providers who wish to deny care to a patient based on moral or religious objections. The Ohio law states providers are "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.”

In Ohio, doctors and nurses, who refuse to treat a patient, must provide emergency care until they can transfer the patient to another provider or hospital willing to treat them.

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that most Americans, regardless of their political party, do not support discriminatory healthcare policies. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agree the US Health system should not refuse to treat patients based on their individual life choices.

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At Least Six In Ten Republicans, Independents, And Democrats Support Laws Protecting LGBTQ Individuals From DiscriminationChart CC KFF poll LGBTQ rights and healthcare June 2020

Governor DeWine and the Ohio legislature failed to recognize one of the most important healthcare provider aspects.

Patient care is about the patient. Not the provider.

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Doctor comforting a patient in need.Photo: Fizkes Istock/Getty Images

The Ohio law fails to acknowledge one of the most challenging aspects of medical care. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers work hard to avoid value judgments when providing care. We work to see all patients as worthy. We try to avoid bias. 

Healthcare workers treat patients. We do not judge who they are or what choices they made to need our service. Doctors and nurses do not treat the patients we like and turn away those who are not aligned with our morals and values.

Good doctors and nurses do not pick and choose. We separate ourselves from value judgments to treat the patient in front of us. No matter who they are.

Medical care is about placing value on each person’s life. Although challenging, health providers try to avoid considering patient culpability when treating people. Our personal feelings must be checked at the door.

We treat the person in front of us. 

Pulmonologists do not refuse to treat or blame a chain smoker for getting lung cancer. Trauma surgeons treat drunk driving victims and the perpetrators equally. We do not refuse care to gang members who get shot or deny Covid-19 treatments to those who refuse to wear masks or failed to get vaccinated. 

In Obstetrics and Gynecology, we provide care to pregnant women who use illegal drugs and prescribe PrEP therapy to those with multiple unprotected sexual partners. We don’t insert personal bias or value judgments into patient care. We try very hard to do exactly the opposite.

A health provider's job is to counsel patients and empower them with knowledge. We discuss the health risks of their life choices.

We do not deny care to those who live their lives in ways differently than we do, even if we find a patient's life choices morally offensive.

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Dr. Jeff Livingston is nationally recognized thought leader, speaker, writer, blogger and practicing physician who is considered an expert in the use of social media to educate patients, using new and innovative technology to improve care outcomes and the patient experience. He is a prating Obgyn and serves as the CEO of MacArthur Medical Center. Dr. Jeff is the co-founder of the health website Medika.life and an active blogger on Medium.

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