Severino Appointed as Director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights

Former civil rights trial attorney Roger Severino has been appointed, by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, to lead its HIPAA enforcement efforts.

Mr Severino moves to the OCR from his role at the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, where he held the position of Director since May 2015.

An official announcement about the appointment of the new OCR Director has yet to be released; however, the Heritage Foundation has stated that Severino is no longer on the staff and his name has been added to the HHS website. A representative for OCR has also confirmed that Severino will be the new director and Severino’s LinkedIn profile has also been updated to list his new position as OCR chief.

Severino has much experience in civil rights litigation, having been employed as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice for seven years in the Housing and Civil Enforcement division. During his time at the DOJ, Severino enforced the Fair Housing Act, Title II and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Severino has also held the position of Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty between July 2003 and May 2008.

While Severino has some civil rights experience and has been employed in the section of the DOJ that enforces criminal HIPAA statutes, he does not seem to have much experience of privacy and security matters.

Many human rights groups have expressed worry over the decision to appoint Severino as head of OCR due to the views he has previously expressed about transgender people and same-sex marriages. Severino has written a number of reports in which he has spoken out in opposition of LGBT rights and pro-LGBT legislation. Severino has expressed opposition to Planned Parenthood.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign was particularly outspoken and made his worry obvious in saying ‘There isn’t a more dangerous person to lead HHSGov’s Office for Civil Rights than LGBTQ opponent Roger Severino.”

Wade Henderson, current president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right, stated “The Office for Civil Rights at HHS is essential to ensuring that all people can lead healthy lives, free of discriminatory barriers. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination based on race, sex, disability and age in health programs and activities, is key to achieving this goal”. Mr Henderson added, “Strong and experienced leadership at OCR committed to fully enforcing Section 1557 is therefore critical. Mr. Severino is not that leader.”

OCR is likely to move in an alternative direction under Severino’s leadership than it was under the previous director Jocelyn Samuels.

Author: Maria Perez