HHS Again Tackles a Proposed New Rule Against ‘Conscience and Religious Discrimination’

By A.J. Plunkett

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will soon be soliciting comment on a proposed rule to strengthen protections “against conscience and religious discrimination.”

HHS issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to the Federal Register to be schedule for publication. Comments will be taken for 60 days after publication.

The proposal, which would be entitled “Safeguarding the Rights of Conscience as Protected by Federal Statutes,” is designed to “to restore the longstanding process for the handling of conscience complaints and provide additional safeguards to protect against conscience and religious discrimination,” according to an HHS statement from Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“No one should be discriminated against because of their religious or moral beliefs, especially when they are seeking or providing care,” wrote Becerra. “The proposed rule strengthens protections for people with religious or moral objections while also ensuring access to care for all in keeping with the law.”

The proposed rule will be a follow up to an HHS Office of Civil Rights regulation in 2019 “that provided broad definitions, created new compliance regulations, and created a new enforcement mechanism for a number of statutes related to the conscience rights of certain federally funded health care entities and providers,” according to the statement. “The 2019 Final Rule was held unlawful by three federal district courts. In light of these court decisions, and consistent with the Administration’s commitment to safeguard the rights of federal conscience and religious nondiscrimination while protecting access to care, this NPRM proposes to partially rescind the Department’s 2019 rule while reinforcing other processes previously in place for the handling of conscience and religious freedom complaints.”

A.J. Plunkett is editor of Inside Accreditation & Quality, an HCPro publication.