Congress reopens the government and reauthorizes CHIP while HHS creates a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division

  

Earlier today the Senate announced a deal for a three week continuing resolution to reopen the government. While this is an important step, ANA continues to advocate for a long-term, bipartisan solution to provide Americans with a greater sense of stability. In particular, we encourage both chambers to find an equitable compromise for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Included in this deal was a six year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It’s been more than 100 days since this vital, bipartisan program, which provides health coverage to 9 million children and pregnant women, was fully funded, and many Americans across the country worried that their family’s health care could run out. Nurses were critical in securing this win and we can’t thank you enough for reaching out to your representatives in Congress demanding a long term solution.

The shutdown and CHIP reauthorization are not the only important issues developing in Washington. Last Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it was establishing a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division under the Office for Civil Rights. This new division is charged with enforcing current laws that protect nurses and other health professionals who refuse to provide care to which they have moral or legal objections.

While health care professionals are obligated to follow laws and the federal government has the obligation to enforce these laws, both parties have the important responsibility to ensure that all patients receive the care and treatment to which they are entitled. All health care professionals’ first priority should be the quality and equal access of care their patients need. That is one of the reason that several organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Human Rights Campaign, have expressed concerns that this new division could cause increased discrimination among certain groups of patients.

There are also legitimate concerns that this new entity could hinder or even deny some patients the care or treatment options open to them. Far too often vulnerable populations experience discrimination when it comes to their health care. Patients rely on nurses to provide honest and professional medical advice and treatment during the course of care regardless of their own beliefs. It is vital that all patients, regardless of their beliefs, sexual orientation, gender or health care needs know they are receiving the most accurate and timely care.

This issue is extremely important to the nursing profession. In response to this announcement Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), issued the following statement:

“The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements states that a nurse has a duty to care. It also states a nurse is justified in refusing to participate in a particular decision or action that is morally objectionable, so long as it is a conscience-based objection and not one based on personal preference, prejudice, bias, convenience, or arbitrariness. Nurses are obliged to provide for patient safety, to avoid patient abandonment, and to withdraw only when assured that nursing care is available to the patient. Nurses who decide not to participate on the grounds of conscientious objection must communicate this decision in a timely and appropriate manner, in advance and in time for alternate arrangements to be made for patient care. Nurses should not be discriminated against by employers for exercising a conscience based refusal.

However, we must take care to balance health care professionals’ rights to exercise their conscience with patients’ rights to access a full range of health care services. Discrimination in health care settings remains a grave and widespread problem for many vulnerable populations and contributes to a wide range of health disparities. All patients deserve universal access to high quality care and we must guard against erosion of any civil rights protections in health care that would lead to denied or delayed care.”

Discrimination, prejudice and bias have no place in the American health care system and no patient should have to worry they aren’t getting the timely or medically necessary treatment they need. Nurses will continue to advocate for their patients to prevent discrimination and ensure that all Americans receive the high quality care they are entitled to. As the Department of Health and Human Services moves forward with this undertaking we will continue to monitor not only the implementation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division but the activities coming out of it to ensure that patients and health care professionals are protected.