Furthering Healthcare For LGBT Americans

Doctor with stethoscope isolated on white
Doctor with stethoscope isolated on white

Last week, as part of national LGBT Week of Action for Healthcare Enrollment, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, and I held a phone conference with members of the LGBT community to discuss the importance of enrolling in healthcare coverage. The open enrollment period to purchase 2017 health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace runs through January 31st, but the deadline for coverage starting January 1st is December 15th. People who need coverage should check out their options -- most HealthCare.gov consumers can gain coverage for less than $75 per month. The Affordable Care Act ("ACA") has improved and expanded health coverage for millions of Americans, including LGBT people, through an expanded, stronger Medicaid program and new, transparent marketplaces where individuals can shop for and compare plans to find the right one for them. Moreover, thanks to the ACA, insurance companies can no longer deny individuals coverage or charge them more based on pre-existing conditions. As a result, all Americans have the security of knowing that they can access affordable, quality health coverage even if they lose their jobs, switch jobs, or start their own business -- a peace of mind that is simply invaluable. Before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, cancer patients, transgender people, and those living with HIV could all be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition. The Defense of Marriage Act was still in effect, and LGBT people were often barred from seeing their loved ones even as they lay dying in the hospital. As one letter writer described to the President in 2013, his dying husband could have benefitted from the law if it had been passed sooner -- a preexisting heart condition had prevented his partner of 19 years from qualifying for health insurance. Unfortunately, he caught influenza that developed into pneumonia, and which led to his premature death, leaving his widower with drained retirement savings at the age of just 49. As the writer said, "Had he had proper insurance, perhaps he would have gone to the doctor sooner and maybe he just might still be alive today." The ACA has played a pivotal role in our ability to improve care and coverage for all Americans, and for LGBT individuals and families in particular. Today, over 20 million people have gained healthcare coverage because of this historic law. And, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took action to ensure that all Americans, including LGBT people, have the right to be visited by their loved ones while in the hospital, as well as the right to decide who can make medical decisions on their behalf through advance directives. These were groundbreaking developments for the LGBT community at the time, particularly because they took place while the Defense of Marriage Act was still in force and the Federal Government was restricted from fully recognizing marriage equality. The Obama Administration has extended protections against discrimination to individuals and families in receiving healthcare and insurance coverage through Section 1557, the non-discrimination provision of the ACA. We have also built up the HHS workforce and provided resources to help them effectively serve LGBT individuals, and laid the groundwork for LGBT inclusion in electronic health records and other forms of data collection, which will inform future research and science aimed at improving health outcomes for LGBT people. And yet, with all of our progress, we continue to see profound health disparities throughout LGBT communities, especially among people of color and those who are transgender. LGBT youth are particularly vulnerable, and are at higher risk of bullying and harassment, substance use, physical and sexual violence, and suicide. From major legislative achievements, to historic court victories, to important policy changes, the President has fought to promote the equal rights of all Americans -- no matter who they are or whom they love. We remain determined to continue to deliver meaningful and measurable improvements in LGBT health care that provide a blueprint for future administrations to sustain and further our accomplishments. That commitment to leveling the playing field and ensuring equality is a bedrock principle on which this nation was founded and has always been a guiding light for President Obama. I hope all those Americans, including those in the LGBT community, who need health insurance coverage will go to HealthCare.gov to sign up by Thursday, December 15th for coverage, and peace of mind, starting on January 1st.

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