2017 brings progress on LGBTQ health

Affordable Care Act helps to cover more LGBTQ individuals

More than one year after marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide, President Barack 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 LBGTQ Americans.

We do so because the sad reality is that LGBTQ people still face discrimination in many areas of life, including healthcare. This discrimination exacerbates very real health disparities and societal challenges LGBTQ people face, including higher rates of depression, smoking, HIV, stigma, violence, rejection by family and community, as well as inequity in the workplace and insurance sectors.

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 in North Carolina, the answer is always the same: the Affordable Care Act.

You may know some of the law’s benefits — like financial assistance to help eligible consumers afford health insurance, certain recommended preventive care like cancer and HIV/STI screenings without cost sharing and coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.

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Still, many do not realize just how much the law offers for LGBTQ in North Carolina. That’s because LGBTQ people are more likely than their straight, cisgender peers to be uninsured. In fact, because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the uninsured rate nationwide for low- and middle-income LGBT people dropped from 34 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2014. For LGB people, the uninsured rate was nearly cut in half from 2013 to 2015.

Thanks to the ACA, more LGBTQ people have health insurance than ever before. And even more have the opportunity to get covered by visiting HealthCare.gov beginning on Nov. 1.

As a result of new enhancements to the law, the ACA providers increased protections for LGBTQ communities. In May, the HHS Office for Civil Rights spelled out significant new non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ.

The new rules mean that all LGBTQ people — whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, or intersex — are protected from discrimination just for being who they are. These protections apply in every state and mean that:

• Health insurance plans sold through HealthCare.gov can no longer have categorical exclusions for services related to gender transition.

• A hospital or clinic that receives federal funds 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 or ward based on your gender identity.

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• You should not face harassment from a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or nurse, intentionally refusing to use your correct name and pronoun.

This means that even more LGBTQ people have the opportunity for more meaningful health insurance coverage starting Jan.1, 2017.

If you face this or any other type of discrimination, we urge you to file a complaint online with the regional Office for Civil Rights at bit.ly/2fPNl2L.

We know more can be done to improve LGBTQ health and we will continue to build upon the strides we have already made together. But now we need your help to make these protections a reality for millions of LGBTQ people across the country.

Visit HealthCare.gov to enroll and talk to your loved ones about doing the same. If you pick a plan by Dec. 15, 2016, your coverage may begin as early as Jan. 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. And you can sit down or call to make a free appointment with an LGBTQ-friendly expert who can help you understand your options.

With financial help, new non-discrimination protections and better quality coverage, there’s never been a better time to be out, be healthy and get covered. For more information, call 404-562-7888 or visit hhs.gov/ocr.

info: Dr. Pamela Roshell was appointed by the Obama Administration as regional director of Region 4 of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) in July 2012, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in healthcare policy, public administration and gerontology. She is the first African-American woman to hold this position in Region 4 which covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as six federally recognized tribes. Dr. Roshell is a graduate of Columbia College and received a master’s of social work degree with a specialty in administration from the University of South Carolina. She has built on that specialty with the completion of a Ph.D. in social policy analysis, planning and administration from Clark Atlanta University.

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