White House Meeting Heats Up



LGBT Health
David Hansell, acting assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provided an overview of the work currently being done on LGBT health. Through a coordinating group, the agency is including LGBT concerns in decisions made by its 10 divisions. Hansell outlined provisions of the Affordable Care Act that will benefit LGBT Americans including expanded access to health coverage and abolition of insurance companies' practices barring those with preexisting conditions and imposing lifetime caps on pay-outs. As HHS adopts the thousands of forthcoming mandates and policy statements needed to implement federal health care reform, LGBT health and family advocates will have extensive opportunities to shape outcomes.

Hansell then offered a status report on President Obama's April 2010 memorandum directing hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to allow patients to decide who can visit them. The memo also bars discrimination based on a variety of characteristics including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The public comment process on the proposed visitation policy ends on Aug. 27. A draft policy outlining HHS regulations that would guarantee that hospitals honor advanced directives will soon be posted for 180 days of public comment. The subsequent regulatory change will make much clearer who is allowed to make decisions on a patient's care if he or she is unable to do so.

In upcoming months, Hansell stressed, there will be unprecedented opportunities for LGBT advocates to offer recommendations on a number of concerns including adoption, youth, homelessness, seniors, and sex education. Historically, the federal government has not tracked data identifying the needs of LGBT youth or seniors, Hansell asserted, but is now implementing processes to do so in order to ensure that these vulnerable populations receive adequate funding and services.

Hansell said the LGBT community can best ensure that these new directives are enforced by working with the local or state office administering the specific program. If that doesn't resolve the problem, advocates should contact the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

Hansell then fielded questions pertaining to transgender people. When the public comment process determining what federal benefits insurance companies must provide begins, he called for the LGBT community and health care advocates to vocalize the need to include gender reassignment surgery. Hansell claimed that HHS is already determining how best to assist homeless transgender youth. Raphel Bostic, assistant secretary for policy development and research for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then detailed current administrative efforts to redress housing inequities in the LGBT community. 2010 marks the first time that HUD is including this issue in its once-a-decade study on housing discrimination. Because the Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, it is important to determine how federal policies and practices must be modified to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly in the housing and mortgage policies and funding.