Op-ed: Getting Health Insurance Matters to Equality
This week, I had an incredible opportunity to see first-hand the progress that our LGBT community has made in the years since President Obama and Vice President Biden took office. I had the privilege of being invited to the White House to meet with Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of our vice president, and a fierce advocate for LGBT rights. Dr. Biden invited me, along with several other LGBT individuals from across the country, to the White House to share how the Affordable Care Act has changed our lives for the better. Growing up, I’m not sure I could have imagined a proud, out, black lesbian like me would be invited to the White House. But there I was, and Dr. Biden was listening.
What a difference a few years has made for the LGBT community.
In the Roosevelt Room at the White House, I was able to tell Dr. Biden about how health reform has eased a burden I’ve carried for years. Through my work as executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, I have advocated fiercely to promote the well-being of black women and girls in the greater Pittsburgh region. However, the high cost of health care was prohibitive for a small organization like ours, and for the past four years I lived with the uncertainty of not having health insurance coverage. That all changed on January 1, 2014. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I was able to sign up for a plan through HealthCare.gov, and now I can take care of my pre-existing conditions and get the affordable care I need to stay well.
What a difference these past few months have made for my health.
At the White House, I also learned I’m not alone! I was deeply moved to hear the stories of LGBT individuals from around the country: a transgender woman from Colorado who is now able to afford health care without having to sell her home; a gay man from Detroit who can get coverage for the care he needs — from prescriptions to dental to vision — while saving hundreds of dollars a month. These last few months have changed him from a skeptic of health reform to an outspoken supporter. There was also a married couple from Atlanta — two men who run their own small business and who are saving thousands of dollars a year thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
As others spoke up, it became clear to me that I am part of a large and growing community of LGBT people who have seen our lives changed for the better by the Affordable Care Act.
Following the discussion with Dr. Biden, we had the opportunity to listen in as the vice president held a conference call with LGBT groups to thank them for their enrollment and outreach efforts.
What a difference a few hours at the White House made for how I think about our community’s future.
I’m now back in Pennsylvania, but something I heard in Washington, D.C. has stayed with me. I heard someone say that it’s not surprising that the fights for LGBT equality and quality, affordable health care have come together. And that is exactly right — if these past few months, and years have shown me anything, it’s that affordable health care and coverage are LGBT equality issues. Our community is contributing to and benefitting from better health coverage — we are helping to make our country a healthier and more just place. We are making a difference.
But there’s still more to be done. If you don’t already have health insurance, there are only a few days left to enroll in new health insurance options, meaning that time is running out for our community to sign up for coverage and be a part of this truly historic moment. The deadline to enroll is March 31 — make sure to visit www.healthcare.gov to get enrolled and visit www.out2enroll.org for answers to your LGBT-specific questions.
Getting covered made a difference for me, for the friends I met in Washington, and for so many other LGBT people all across the country. If I could share one hope from the past couple of days, it is that anyone who reads this will take a chance, explore the new coverage options, and see what a difference these next few days could make for your health.
LA’TASHA MAYES is the founder and Executive Director of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.