LGBT Equality Means a Commitment to Health

I'd like to introduce you to Matthew G. Heinz, MD, Director of LGBT Outreach for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Matt has an important message to tell you about the work that HHS is doing to improve the health and well-being of LGBT Americans.

This is Matt's message:

This year, the tide of discrimination against the LGBT community has begun to turn in a significant way. June's Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ended a means of discrimination against same-sex couples that had been enshrined in law. The Affordable Care Act also brings important legal protections against discrimination by insurance companies based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including in the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Through the Marketplace, LGBT individuals without health insurance, or those who have insurance but want to explore their options, will be able to shop for quality, affordable coverage. Open enrollment starts October 1st, with coverage beginning as early as January 2014.

As a physician and a member of the LGBT community, I'm proud to say that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been working to improve the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families in many meaningful ways. A recent report released by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlights the many LGBT-related successes of HHS over the past year and sets additional goals for the following year. This year marks the third annual report from HHS on its progress and objectives to improve the health of the LGBT community. These unprecedented efforts over the last four years reflect President Obama's commitment to improve LGBT health and well-being.

Looking ahead, this next year will bring important work by the department on behalf of LGBT Americans. HHS is working to swiftly implement the numerous changes resulting from the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA. Starting in January, thanks to the health care law, health insurance companies will no longer be permitted to deny coverage due to a preexisting condition. Just as significant, LGBT individuals will be protected under the Affordable Care Act - no health insurance company will be permitted to deny coverage based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

We want all members of our community to be aware of these amazing new legal protections, which will bring with them further opportunities to continue to address the specific health needs of the LGBT population. For decades, many LGBT individuals have not received basic medical care due to financial barriers and/or legal discrimination, among other factors. With the Affordable Care Act significantly redressing these historical concerns, it is time that we reverse some of the troubling health disparities that have developed in the LGBT community. Educating the community about the Health Insurance Marketplaces and helping to sign up those who are uninsured for affordable coverage will be essential to helping bridge the disparity gap. To equip the LGBT community with information and resources for obtaining affordable coverage through the Marketplace, HHS will host a LGBT health insurance outreach summit, which will help ensure that the community has the necessary tools to help individuals and families enroll.

HHS efforts are also continuing to bring scientific rigor to the needs of the LGBT community. As detailed in the Secretary's report, in the coming year, HHS will deepen its commitment to ensuring that the LGBT population is represented in scientific health research and valuable health surveys, which is critical to understanding the health needs of the community. To protect and improve the health of any population, a thorough understanding of health status and disparities is essential - HHS is continuing to work toward such an understanding of the LGBT community. Even as it does so, HHS will continue to strive to make certain that available services adequately address the needs of vulnerable LGBT youth and families.

It is worth noting some of the last year's accomplishments toward eliminating health disparities for LGBT individuals:

  • HHS now has a sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive non-discrimination policy that extends to services provided to HHS program beneficiaries by contractors.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration awarded grants to support interventions that will improve the timely initiation and retention of quality HIV care for transgender women of color.
  • The Office on Women's Health invested in pilot studies to test effective ways of reducing obesity in lesbians and bisexual women.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will continue working toward growing the field of health research relating to the LGBT community by hosting the first annual NIH Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Research Symposium. Additionally, NIH convened a scientific work group to develop strategies to expand research on the care of intersex children and their families.
  • New questions related to sexual orientation were added to the HHS flagship survey, the National Health Interview Survey, and progress was made to begin incorporating questions related to gender identity in other critical health instruments.

Progress is made not only through bold shifts like implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but also through smaller day-to-day efforts. Be assured that HHS is making every effort to ensure equally accessible quality medical care to improve the health and lives of LGBT individuals and all Americans.