BY Ryan McLendon
January 14 2010 3:15 PM ET
The Affordable Health Care for America Act could make the lives of gays and lesbians much healthier. Or not, depending on which language is used in the final bill.
While the health care bill passed in the House worked to significantly improve the lives of gays and lesbians with the creation of sweeping reforms, such as the elimination of preexisting condition exclusions that affect many Americans, the Senate bill removed all LGBT-specific language before reaching the chamber. Now reconciliation of the two bills could favor the Senate language, which would diminish the impact health care reform could have on gay people.
Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, said gay-specific language in the health care bill is vital to data inclusion for gays and lesbians fighting to save it. “It’s better to have statutory language,” she said. “We are going into conference to protect this language.”
The HRC has worked closely with Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin, who is optimistic gay-specific language will make it into the final bill. Baldwin said while there’s no expressed opposition by Democrats to the pro-gay provisions, there’s a long road ahead before the matter is settled. “This is a huge priority for me, and I expect to keep it in the final [bill],” Baldwin told The Advocate.
Baldwin said the two bills are currently being merged in places the two houses generally agree upon in order to limit the amount of controversy early in the process. But she is gearing up for a war of words. “What we’re doing right now is making the record of strong support for that language so that our leadership ... is in the best position possible to make the arguments to keep [the language] in,” Baldwin said.
The final health care bill is expected to be on President Obama’s desk before the State of the Union Speech in February.
Without the language, the secretary of Health and Human Services would have to mandate the gathering of the information.
The need for LGBT data inclusion in federal studies is apparent among health advocates. It’s unclear whether gay men are at higher risk of heart disease than heterosexual men, or if lesbians are more susceptible to breast cancer. The information has never been compiled in federally funded research.
Moreover, the rate of uninsured gays and lesbians is unknown because health surveys don’t currently ask LGBT-specific questions. Data inclusion, advocates say, would give doctors, insurance providers, and lawmakers the hard facts of gay health.