2017 brings continued progress on LGBTQ health

The sad reality is that LGBTQ people still face discrimination in many areas of life, including health care.

By Marjorie Petty
Director, HHS


More than one year after marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide, President Obama, Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and my colleagues and I at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continue to seize opportunities to improve the health and well-being of LGBTQ Americans.

We do so because the sad reality is that LGBTQ people still face discrimination in many areas of life, including health care. This discrimination worsens the very real health disparities that LGBTQ people face, such as higher rates of depression, smoking, HIV, and experiences of violence.

The Obama Administration has made historic advancements for the LGBTQ community, and as we celebrate that progress, we know there is still more to do. We’ve proudly required all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds (nearly every hospital in America) to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients, funded the first national resource center for older LGBT individuals, and released the nation’s first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, among many other initiatives.

But when I’m asked about the most important thing we’ve done for LGBTQ health, the answer is always the same: The Affordable Care Act (ACA).

You may know some of the law’s benefits—like financial help, cost free preventive care and coverage for preexisting conditions.

But many do not realize just how much the law offers for LGBTQ people. Why? Because LGBTQ people are more likely than their straight, cisgender peers to be uninsured. Because of the ACA, the uninsured rate for low/middle-income LGBTQ people dropped from 34 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2014.

But that’s not the only thing that the law offers for LGBTQ communities. The HHS Office for Civil Rights spelled out significant new nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people under the ACA.

The new rules mean that all LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination just for being who they are. These protections apply in every state and mean that:

•          Plans sold through HealthCare.gov cannot have categorical exclusions for services related to gender transition.

•          A hospital or clinic cannot turn you away because you are transgender or in a same-sex relationship.

•          You have the right to be placed in a hospital room based on your gender identity.

•          You should not face harassment from a health care provider, such as refusing to use your correct name and pronoun.

If you face this or other discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr.

Beginning November 1, visit HealthCare.gov to enroll and talk to your loved ones about doing the same. If you pick a plan by December 15, your coverage may begin as early as January 1, 2017. Financial help is available for those eligible to make insurance more affordable: in 2016, nearly 7 in 10 people could have selected a plan for less than $75 per month. For help, you can make a free appointment with an LGBTQ-friendly expert to understand your options.

Editor’s Note: Many insurance companies have dropped out of the ACA marketplace, and rates have increased across the board, so it is imperative you check on what is available in 2017. Also, if you are HIV+, some companies have cut back on their payments for HIV drugs, so check the drug coverage closely.

Copyright 2016 The Gayly - November 30, 2016 @ 12 p.m.