May 24 (UPI) -- The Trump administration proposed a new rule Friday to strip discrimination protections for transgender persons in healthcare -- a move to reverse an Obama-era policy enacted to guard that segment of the population.
The change by the Department of Health and Human Services specifies that existing laws that bar sex-based discrimination no longer apply to a patient's gender identity.
HHS civil rights office director Roger Severino said the proposed rule brings the definition back in line with its original intent.
"When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform," Severino said in a statement. "The American people want vigorous protection of civil rights and faithfulness to the text of the laws passed by their representatives. The proposed rule would accomplish both goals."
The proposal has entered a 60-day comment period, after which it would become law. The move, however, will almost certainly to be challenged in federal court.
The HHS said the original 2016 rule broadened sex-based discrimination to include gender identity, which is defined by a person's internal sense of being "male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female." Those provisions, however, run counter to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, Severino said.
HHS said the change, if implemented, would save about $3.6 billion over five years in "unnecessary regulatory costs."
The transgender community and advocates fear the move would deny transgender Americans medical coverage. The National Center for Transgender Equality said the Obama policy helped eliminate exclusions for transgenders, but the change would let insurance companies and health providers deny coverage.
"Predicated on little more than prejudice, this proposal will abandon two million Americans who already face significant barriers to accessing adequate and life-saving health care," Mara Keisling, executive director for the center, said in a statement.
"This is not about free healthcare or special treatment. It's about the right of every American to be treated with dignity when they walk into an emergency room, meet a new doctor, or find the right insurance plan."