–By Matthew Heinz, MD, Director of Provider & LGBT Outreach, and Juliet K. Choi, JD, Chief of Staff & Senior Advisor, Office for Civil Rights
Throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we operate on the fundamental belief that every American deserves equal opportunity, equal protection, and equal rights under the law. When we are sick or injured, we depend on health care professionals to treat us with competence, compassion, and the understanding that we are protected against mistreatment.
Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individuals harms the health and well-being of LGBT individuals and their families in many ways. Like everyone else, LGBT individuals should receive regular health care when and where they need it, without fear of disclosing their sexual history and gender identity to their health care providers, and with the freedom to involve their partners in their care. But they often cannot do so, or believe they cannot do so, based on the threat of discrimination.
HHS has in place a matrix of powerful protections to ensure that LGBT individuals have equal access to health care and freedom from discrimination:
- The Affordable Care Act prevents health insurance companies from raising rates or denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or mental health concerns – or because they happen to be LGBT.
- Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on coverage. This is particularly important to HIV/AIDS patients, and anyone else who has a chronic condition.
- The landmark civil rights provision, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sex, which includes discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity. While implementing regulations are being drafted, HHS is accepting complaints and enforcing the law.
- Insurance companies are prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including against same-sex spouses with respect to an offer of spousal coverage.
All of this is good news for the LGBT community, particularly when we consider that prior to the new coverage options provided under the health care law, one in three lower income LGBT adults in our country did not have health insurance. You don’t have to be an expert to figure out what we need to do to get the word out. It’s outreach. It’s education. It’s communication. Information is a powerful tool to equip individuals, friends, family, and community leaders with knowledge to ensure LGBT people have access to quality, affordable health care and freedom from discrimination.
We hope you will continue to join us in this important work.