IRWG Associate Director to Study the ACA’s Ban on Sex Discrimination in Health Care

color photo of Anna Kirkland
Anna Kirkland
Date: 
04/10/2017
color photo of Anna Kirkland
Anna Kirkland

Professor Anna Kirkland has been awarded a $354,839 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct the first-ever empirical study on the Affordable Care Act’s sex discrimination ban.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, it contained a clause prohibiting sex discrimination by any covered health care provider, from hospitals to laboratories to the insurance exchanges. This provision, termed Section 1557, is the first federal extension of the right to be free from sex discrimination in health care. New implementing regulations went into effect in the summer of 2016, requiring health care providers who receive federal funding and have more than 15 employees to appoint a designated grievance handler to receive discrimination complaints.

Kirkland’s two-year study will look at how health care providers respond to and implement the federally-mandated changes. Kirkland and her research team will conduct interviews with appointed grievance handlers at different healthcare institutions (hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and doctors’ offices) across the country. For a wide geographic and politically diverse sample, interviews will be conducted in Northern California, New York (Syracuse and NYC), Michigan, and Alabama.

Under the Obama administration, sex discrimination was interpreted broadly, including sexual orientation and transgender discrimination, though a federal judge recently placed a nationwide injunction on those inclusions. Unsurprisingly, Kirkland has been asked how the new Republican administration’s proposed repeal of the ACA may affect her research. She explains: “At this stage, I am not concerned that my research will be impacted by the effort to repeal and replace the ACA. Since the non-discrimination clause under Section 1557 is non-budgetary, it cannot be replaced under the budget reconciliation process. Changing the implementing regulations would require enacting entirely new regulations, which is a lengthy and difficult process.”

Kirkland said, “I am excited to begin this project considering the intersection of law, health, and civil rights within the changing landscape of American healthcare. It’s critical to understand how regulations are adopted from paper and put into practice.”

Anna Kirkland is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Associate Professor of Women's Studies, and Associate Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG). She holds a courtesy appointment in Political Science. Professor Kirkland earned her J.D. (2001) and Ph.D. (Jurisprudence and Social Policy, 2003) from the University of California, Berkeley. Her project,“Organizational Constructions of a New Right,” was funded by the National Science Foundation, Law and Social Sciences Division and Sciences of Organizations Division.

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