More than a year after marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide, President Obama and those who work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – including Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, my colleagues, and me – continue to seize opportunities to improve the health and well-being of LGBTQ Americans (goo.gl/fZqOWM).
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 smoking, depression, HIV, and experiences of violence.
The Obama administration has made historic advancements for the LGBTQ community, but 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 the United States) to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients. We funded the first national resource center for older LGBT individuals. And we released the 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.
You may know some of the law’s benefits, such as financial aid that helps eligible consumers afford health insurance, requirements that insurance cover certain preventive care such as cancer and HIV/STI screenings without cost to the consumer, and coverage for preexisting medical conditions.
These benefits are becoming more widely recognized. In Missouri and Kansas, nearly 400,000 people signed up for 2016 coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplaces that the law established. And more than one in four – 110,572 – lived in the Kansas City metro area.
In both states, more than 80 percent of those consumers qualified for financial help that provided a discount of more than two-thirds off the list price of the insurance plan. In Missouri, the average paid by a consumer for coverage was just $94 a month. In Kansas, the average was $106 a month.
Despite progress, LGBTQ people are still more likely than their straight, cisgender peers to be uninsured. One reason is that many still do not realize how much the law offers for LGBTQ Kansans and Missourians.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate for LGB people was cut nearly in half from 2013 to 2015. Although more LGBTQ people have health insurance than ever, even more have the opportunity to get covered by visiting HealthCare.gov beginning Nov. 1.
And there is more good news: In May, my colleagues at the HHS Office for Civil Rights spelled out significant new nondiscrimination protections (goo.gl/EEFPkH) for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act.
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.
You should not face harassment from a health-care 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.
If you face this or any other type of discrimination, we urge you to file a complaint with the regional Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
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.
Beginning Nov. 1, visit HealthCare.govto 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 to make insurance more affordable for those who are eligible. 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 (out2enroll.org/enrollment-help/) who can help you understand your options and choose the health plan that’s best for you. In the Kansas City area, you can call the United Way helpline at 2-1-1 to find the health insurance counselor nearest you.
With financial help, new nondiscrimination protections, and better quality coverage, there’s never been a better time to be out, be healthy, and get covered.
Stephene Moore is the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She serves Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska from the department’s offices in Kansas City, Mo.