LGBT Leaders Attend White House Health Summit

LGBT leaders were among 150 people invited to the White House for a health care forum in which the Obama administration launched an effort to reform the nation's health care system.

BY Kerry Eleveld

March 06 2009 1:00 AM ET

BARACK OBAMA (ELEVELD) X100 | ADVOCATE.COM

One of the recurring
topics throughout the discussions, according to Haag, was the
need for compromise. "[Republican] Senator Hatch, in real
sincerity, said that he and [Democratic] Senator Kennedy had
been so successful in the past because they found the 80%
everybody agreed on and sometimes they had to delay the other
20%," she said, recalling comments Senator Hatch made at one
panel. "That same theme kept coming out -- it's not going to
be perfect."

Haag said that getting
at least some coverage for everyone with HIV/AIDS was the main
priority. "What we want is all pharmaceuticals being open to
every individual with HIV/AIDS," she explained, "but if we
had to do with a list of 10 and everybody had access to those
10 -- when some people don't have access to any lifesaving
drugs now -- would I accept that as a compromise?
Absolutely."

President Obama pledged
during the '08 election to develop a national HIV/AIDS policy,
an issue that disproportionately affects both communities of
color and LGBT individuals. Obama recently named Jeffrey
Crowley, who is gay, to lead the Office of National AIDS
Policy.

The panel discussions
also served as a way for LGBT leaders to get a sense of where
the interests of lawmakers and gay activists are
aligned.

"What was most useful
to me was to see what the members were thinking," Solmonese
said of listening to the concerns of congressional leaders
during the breakout sessions. The domestic-partner tax equity
bill, for instance, is LGBT-specific legislation that could
also improve access to health care by making it more
affordable. The measure would eliminate taxes on
domestic-partner health benefits, which presently cannot be
deducted from payroll on a pretax basis in the same way they
can be for heterosexual spouses.

Solmonese had met with
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid two weeks ago to discuss the
legislation and the bipartisan support for bringing down taxes
on domestic-partner benefits, which would
simultaneously help employees and eliminate the extra payroll
tax for the employer. "[Reid] is here today," Solmonese
said, "so I will be able to go back to him and say, 'Listen,
when we're talking about taking down barriers to health care,
here's a great example of where LGBT people face greater
barriers.'"

Tags: Politics

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