Roger Severino Quietly Named as HHS Office for Civil Rights Head

Without the distribution of official press releases or public announcements from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Roger Severino was installed this week as the director of HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In lieu of an official announcement of Severino’s appointment, which was made by President Trump, HHS quietly added Severino’s name and biography to OCR’s website. This position does not require approval by the Senate.

Just prior to appointment at OCR, Severino worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, where he served as director of the De Vos Center for Religion and Civil Society, Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. Severino has also served as a trial attorney for seven years in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division where he enforced the Fair Housing Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and Title II and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a department, OCR is responsible for overseeing enforcement of HIPAA through activities such as Phase 2 HIPAA audits that help ensure compliance with the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule. The office also releases guidance on matters including patient access to medical records, health information privacy laws, and patient confidentiality. Additionally, OCR investigates civil rights, health information privacy, and patient safety confidentiality complaints to identify discrimination or violation of the law and takes corrective action by levying penalties.

Advocates from the LGBT community issued swift responses to news of Severino’s appointment due to his recent criticisms of Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions that barred discrimination against transgender patients. As Modern Healthcare noted in May, the ACA allows transgender patients to enter bathrooms and hospital wards that correspond to their gender identity. Prior to the ACA, the law only protected against discrimination based on a person’s race, color, national origin, disability, or age. Under the law, which Severino advocated against in numerous publications, OCR is tasked with investigating complaints and charges of discrimination.

“I could not think of a more dangerous person to head up the Office of Civil Rights [sic] at HHS,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement to ProPublica. “Once again, Donald Trump is declaring war against our community by appointing anti-LGBTQ people at all levels of his administration.”

A spokeswoman for the Heritage Foundation, however, praised him. “We have no doubt that Roger in his new role at HHS will protect the civil rights of all Americans,” Marguerite Bowling, from the Heritage Foundation, told ProPublica.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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