Affordable Care Act expands coverage for LGBT Americans

Photo: Adam Fagen

By upholding the Affordable Care Act in a landmark decision Thursday, the Supreme Court sustains provisions in the law that guarantees coverage and ultimately expands access of LGBT Americans to health care, regardless of which state they live in, pre-existing conditions or income.

As of 2014 insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition such as HIV or a transgender medical history, for example. It’s the first time nondiscrimination protections have been added to the nation’s health care system.

“Today, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision kept the door open for millions of LGBT Americans to gain access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Jamal Edwards, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health Center, said in a statement.

Under Barack Obama’s signature legislation, a new $11 billion fund will create new community health centers and expand existing ones, such as Howard Brown in Chicago, which have expertise in providing care to low-income populations and the LGBT community.

In a recent speech at the first-ever White House LGBT Health Conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said “the Affordable Care Act may represent the strongest foundation we have ever created to begin closing LGBT health disparities.”

In June last year, Sebelius unveiled a plan for including sexual orientation and gender identity in national health data collection efforts starting in 2013, adding LGBT people to the ACA’s required categories of race, ethnicity, primary language, sex and disability status.

The health care law also sets new national standards for Medicaid eligibility. Starting in 2004, adults under the age of 65 who makes less than $15,000 a year will be eligible for the nation’s public health insurance service.

LGBT rights advocates say this new group of Medicaid beneficiaries will include many gay and transgender people and their families, which due to discrimination and lack of relationship recognition are disproportionately more likely to live under disadvantage circumstances.

In an article for The Huffington Post, Stacey Long, director of public policy and government affairs for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said LGBT people, particularly those of color, “are in desperate need of affirmative, comprehensive and affordable health care, and the ACA is an important step to address those needs.”

The new federal policy also eliminates the disability requirement for Medicaid coverage for people living with HIV.

In a push to expand private insurance coverage, the new ACA provisions will help middle-income Americans who make between $15,000 and $43,000 a year to purchase affordable health insurance from their employers or other private providers.

Such transactions may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Affordable Care Act addresses a number of the barriers LGBT people face in obtaining health insurance,” Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “While there is a great deal more that must be done to ensure that the health needs of all LGBT people are fully met throughout the healthcare system, today’s decision is an important victory in the fight for healthcare equality.

According to the National Prevention Strategy, created under the ACA, “all Americans should have the opportunity to live long, healthy, independent and productive lives, regardless of their race or ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, age, mental health, cognitive, sensory or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, geographic location or other characteristics.”