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Op-ed: How Discrimination Affects Our Health

Op-ed: How Discrimination Affects Our Health

2014 was a big year for LGBT rights. The number of states with marriage equality more than doubled, President Obama signed an executive order protecting more than 25 million American workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and bold members of Congress stepped forward to call for comprehensive legislation that ensures no LGBT American — no matter where they live — has to fear discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.

Our progress has been powerful. But there’s so much more to be done to make certain that each and every LGBT person across America is able to enjoy the rights our movement is fighting so hard to secure. Because despite the advances we’ve made over the last several decades, our well-being as LGBT people here at home and around the globe continues to be under siege by social forces frantic to criminalize or erase us, by employment discrimination that traps LGBT workers in low-wage jobs with no benefits, and by health insurance carriers that have historically overlooked or dismissed our health care needs.

Health, including access to the insurance coverage we need to protect ourselves and our families, is an LGBT equality issue. That’s why talking with our families, friends, and allies about the importance of getting health insurance coverage during National LGBT Outreach and Enrollment Week is a vital part of our movement’s fight for the rights and protections we need to stay healthy, stay safe, and stay strong.

Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch in establishing nondiscrimination laws that protect access to the coverage and care we need as LGBT people. The Affordable Care Act includes extensive nondiscrimination provisions that specifically protect LGBT people in every state. These provisions apply to insurance carriers, health insurance marketplaces, health care providers, and the enrollment assisters who offer free local assistance to help people understand their new coverage options.

What’s more, starting January 1, 2015, same-sex spouses in every state have access to the same family plans as different-sex spouses — regardless of whether the state they live in recognizes their marriage. 

And the Affordable Care Act does more than just introduce LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination in insurance coverage and health care. It also provides sliding-scale financial assistance to help individuals and families get coverage that fits their budgets. Under the law, insurance carriers may not deny coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions such as HIV or cancer, and they must cover a robust slate of health services across 10 broad categories of care, such as doctor visits, hospital stays, mental health and substance use services, prescription drugs, and preventive screenings.

The challenge before us now lies in turning these policy provisions into concrete benefits for LGBT people and our families across the country.

Despite the changes introduced by the Affordable Care Act, for instance, recent research from the Center for American Progress emphasizes that LGBT people — especially those with incomes that might qualify them for financial assistance to purchase coverage through a health insurance marketplace — are still more likely than the general population to be uninsured.

As advocates familiar with the games that partisan politicking plays with the lives of real people, it’s clear to us that a major reason why 26 percent of low- and middle-income LGBT people remain uninsured, even in the era of health reform, lies in the continuing efforts of some politicians and commentators to score political points by obscuring the real benefits of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, many LGBT people, particularly those living in states that have not yet meaningfully implemented the Affordable Care Act, are unable to find information they can trust about what health reform might mean for them.

So during National LGBT Outreach and Enrollment Week, let’s get out there and share the good news — like the fact that 87 percent of people who purchased coverage through the marketplace got a subsidy to make their coverage affordable. Let your friends living in a state waiting for marriage equality know that the protections of the Affordable Care Act already include same-sex couples and our families. Pass along word about the Out2Enroll campaign’s new Web locator tool, which allows LGBT people to search by zip code for free LGBT-friendly enrollment assistance in their local area. And don’t be shy about getting yourself a little something too — head over to Out2Enroll or HealthCare.gov today to learn more about your own options for getting covered before the February 15 deadline rolls around.

Being proud of who you are means taking care of yourself. Be you. Be proud. Be #Out2Enroll.


CHAD GRIFFIN is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization.

WINNIE STACHELBERG is the executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, a research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.  

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