Good Medicine: House Bill Addresses LGBT Health
June 24, 2009
This week, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced the “Ending Health Disparities for LGBT Americans Act” - legislation that would eliminate the barriers which impede access to affordable, quality health care for LGBT people. Sponsored by Baldwin along with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), it would establish LGBT nondiscrimination policies for all federal health programs, extend Medicare benefits to domestic partners and create a Department of Health and Human Services Office of LGBT Health. Rep. Baldwin commented: "Our current health care system fails LGBT Americans on many levels. Although we have ample anecdotal evidence of these disparities, the federal government lacks even the most basic data on sexual orientation and gender identity and health. This bill invests in research and takes critical steps towards improving the health of LGBT Americans and their families." HRC President Joe Solmonese added: “A decade ago, federal health officials recognized the health status of lesbians and gays lagged behind the majority of Americans. “This bill takes the necessary steps to address health disparities for the entire LGBT community which have been overlooked for far too long.” For the past three years, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Family Project has teamed up with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association on the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) project. Each year we survey healthcare facilities nationwide on a range of issues of concern to LGBT people and their families – LGBT inclusive patient bills of rights, hospital visitation policies and recognition of LGBT family members when it comes to medical decision making. What we have found is that LGBT Americans are subject to an uneven patchwork of protections in healthcare. In some places our families are recognized and respected, but crossing state lines can render us strangers in the eyes of the law. And even in states where the laws are on our side we are at risk of discrimination at facilities where comprehensive cultural competency training is not required of healthcare facility staff. Rep. Baldwin wisely recognizes this risk by including in this legislation funds for training healthcare providers. This legislation is not only good for the LGBT community, it is good for the healthcare industry. Basically, all healthcare facilities share the common goal of providing quality care to their clientele. Simply stated – a welcoming environment is a healthy environment. By creating a welcoming environment for LGBT people, healthcare administrators make these patients feel secure and respected. When patients are secure in the belief that they will not be discriminated against, they can focus their energies on recuperating instead of worrying about what personal information they can safely share. This comfort level may make the difference between a patient deciding to seek medical treatment in a timely manner and a patient avoiding treatment from a healthcare setting that he or she perceives to be unfriendly. The “Ending Health Disparities for LGBT Americans Act” is good medicine. Learn more about the Healthcare Equality Index (www.hrc.org/hei) Thanks to HRC's Tom Sullivan and Andrea Lavario for their contributions to this post.