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American Atheists Praises Colorado for Becoming First State to Tackle Problem of Health Care Denials

Today, the civil rights organization American Atheists applauded Colorado Governor Jared Polis for signing the Patients’ Right to Know Act (HB 1218). The bill previously passed both chambers with an overwhelming majority (43-19 in the House and 21-12 in the Senate). American Atheists worked with Colorado State Representatives Brianna Titone and Kyle Brown to help develop its language. With Governor Polis’ signature, Colorado has become the first state to adopt this type of law.

In Colorado, like other states, health care facilities and hospitals can deny certain types of care based on the beliefs of hospital executives. Often, they do not even tell patients which health care services they refuse to provide. The Patients’ Right to Know Act will help to protect Coloradans by addressing denial of care at the source. Whenever hospitals deny necessary care based on religious beliefs or other nonmedical reasons, they must now be transparent and disclose this information to patients.

“We are proud to have worked with national and local organizations dedicated to health care, reproductive rights, and religious freedom,” said Rebecca Greben, co-chair of American Atheists’ Colorado Secular Advocacy Team. “The Patients’ Right to Know Act will help protect all Coloradans and especially marginalized groups: LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and nonreligious people.”

“No one should be denied health care because of someone else’s religious beliefs,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists. “Too often, this discrimination happens when patients are least expecting it. They arrive at a clinic or hospital during a medical emergency, only to find out that they are denied care.”

Denial of care and a lack of transparency often go hand in hand. For example, a hospital may not tell a woman that she needs an emergency abortion until she is on the brink of death. A survivor of rape may not be told that emergency contraception is available. A health system may purposefully fail to mention generally available services to same-sex couples or trans patients. Under the Patients’ Right to Know Act, hospitals would have to be transparent with patients about their options.

The Patients’ Right to Know Act is also a response to legislative attempts to increase denials of care. Throughout the country, states have considered and passed bills that allow hospital CEOs, hospital boards, employers, and even insurance companies to deny any health care service based on personal religious beliefs. For example, in 2022, South Carolina passed the so-called Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. These bills disproportionately harm patients in rural areas with limited options for health care, LGBTQ patients, and patients seeking reproductive care.

“Colorado is showing the rest of the country the path forward. States that want to protect patients from nonmedical denial of care should pass their own health care transparency legislation,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists.

During this and future legislative sessions, American Atheists will continue to work on passing bills like the Patients’ Right to Know Act in states across the country.