Rebecca Fox, director of the National Coalition for LGBT Health, said that the House bill has addressed many of her organization’s long-term goals, including the dismantling of preexisting condition exclusions, but stresses the importance of LGBT data inclusion in reforms. "This is the first time that federal legislators have recognized the health disparities of our community,” Fox said.

The Senate bill addresses health disparities and data collection in a way similar to the House bill, but without specific mention of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Jason Schneider, immediate past president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and a doctor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, is confident that data inclusion in health surveys would provide valuable information on how to better diagnose and treat gays and lesbians. “We don't even know the extent of health disparities because those questions are not being asked,” he said. “LGBT people are being left out of the equation.”

Only limited data is available about gay health. Information on depression, HIV rates, and smoking are among the few known statistics. “There are disparities when it comes to prostate cancer among African-Americans,” Schneider said. “We don't have those comparisons for LGBT individuals.”

M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, believes LGBT data inclusion is not only essential for medical research but also makes for better public policy. Without data, it’s impossible to detect disparities in care and, perhaps more important, in provider coverage.

“We can't know if there are problems [for gay people] accessing health care systems unless we have data to make those comparisons,” Badgett said. “We would be able to see if there are differences. We need data to understand why those differences exist.”

Badgett said research could commence with a simple question not included in federal health surveys: What is your sexual orientation?

Herwitt at the HRC believes that the recent death of Sen. Ted Kennedy had a significant impact on the language of the Senate bill. “I think [Kennedy] would have been a key position to help us get that language in the Senate bill,” she said. “He was one of our strongest champions.”

Tags: Health