Florida Governor Signs Controversial Bills Allowing Medical Discrimination and Tougher Immigration Laws

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed several controversial bills into law that have drawn criticism from LGBTQ+ activists and healthcare professionals. The first bill requires private employers with 25 or more employees to use the E-Verify system to verify a new employee’s employment eligibility. The bill expands penalties for employers who fail to comply with E-Verify requirements, including the possible suspension and revocation of employer licenses and the imposition of specific penalties on employers that knowingly employ illegal aliens. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2023.

The second bill signed by DeSantis allows healthcare providers and payors to refuse services based on their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.[0] While the legislation says that healthcare providers can’t use it to deny care based on a patient’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, attempts by Democratic lawmakers to extend those protections to gender identity and sexuality failed.[0] Critics fear the bill could be used to deny care to queer people, if a healthcare provider holds bigoted views about the community. The law goes into effect on July 1.

Another bill signed by DeSantis requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a question on intake forms about the patient’s citizenship status.[1] The Agency for Health Care Administration will mandate hospitals to submit a report every quarter outlining the count of patients who sought emergency care or were admitted to the hospital categorized by their citizen status as indicated in the admission or registration forms.[2] Starting from July 1, the new law will be enforced.

DeSantis also signed an immigration bill that cracks down on those who are undocumented, including increasing penalties for employers who hire someone undocumented and blocks healthcare providers and payors from liability for providing ‘conscience-based’ health care. The new law will make sweeping changes for private employers with 25 or more employees. It requires businesses to use E-Verify employment screening and tougher penalties for knowingly hiring or transporting undocumented people in the state. The law goes into effect on July 1.

Critics of the bills argue that they could lead to medical discrimination, especially against the LGBTQ+ community. They fear the sweeping nature of the text will let providers deny care or coverage to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people. In certain instances, a physician may refuse to provide treatment if they have a “moral objection” to gender-affirming care or if they disapprove of a patient engaging in premarital sexual activity.[0] Not only physicians, but also insurance companies, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, ambulances, and many others could refuse to provide care as per the law.[0]

Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida, said, “This bill is a broad license for health care providers and insurance companies to refuse services to people.[3] Medical care should be accessible to everyone.[3] This grants healthcare providers and insurance companies an unparalleled ability to decline services based on their religious or moral beliefs.[3] Putting patients in harm’s way and endangering the most vulnerable Floridians is contrary to the responsibility of healthcare providers.[0] Instead of granting providers and companies a broad exemption from nondiscrimination laws, our state’s focus ought to be on expanding access to medical care.[4] It’s disgraceful that the governor is willing to jeopardize the well-being of Floridians in order to gain insignificant political advantages.[5]

DeSantis defended the bills, claiming they ensure “freedom of speech for physicians” and said, “these expanded protections will help ensure that medical authoritarianism does not take root in Florida”.[3] The governor blamed the Biden administration for the immigration bill, saying, “In Florida, we will not stand idly by while the federal government abandons its lawful duties to protect our country.[6]

0. “It’s Now Legal in Florida for Doctors to Deny Health Care to Anyone If They Feel Like It” The New Republic, 11 May. 2023, https://newrepublic.com/post/172667/its-now-legal-florida-doctors-deny-health-care-anyone-feel-like

1. “Ron DeSantis signs immigration crackdown” NBC News, 10 May. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2024-election/ron-desantis-signs-immigration-crackdown-rcna83726

2. “Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Strongest Anti-Illegal Immigration Legislation in the Country to Combat Biden’s Border …” Governor Ron DeSantis, 10 May. 2023, https://flgov.com/2023/05/10/governor-ron-desantis-signs-strongest-anti-illegal-immigration-legislation-in-the-country-to-combat-bidens-border-crisis

3. “Ron DeSantis signs medical conscience law, posing LGBTQ risk” PinkNews, 14 May. 2023, https://www.thepinknews.com/2023/05/14/florida-ron-desantis-healthcare-lgbtq/

4. “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs SB 1580 medical conscious bill” Pensacola News Journal, 11 May. 2023, https://www.pnj.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/11/florida-gov-ron-desantis-signs-sb-1580-medical-conscious-bill/70205359007/

5. “Ron DeSantis Signs ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law That Could Be Used Against LGBTQ+ Patients” Advocate.com, 14 May. 2023, https://www.advocate.com/politics/ron-desantis-discriminate-law-lgbtq

6. “Latino Truckers to Boycott Florida, Videos Show: ‘Will Not Be Going'” Newsweek, 15 May. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/latino-truckers-boycott-florida-ron-desantis-migrant-law-1800421

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