The House Health Care Bill Makes Progress For Gay Rights

equaltaxesrights.jpgGay rights advocates are hoping that certain LGBT-friendly provisions now part of the House health care legislation “will be incorporated into the final bill” once the Senate and House bills are “reconciled in conference.”

The House bill “ends the unfair taxation of employer-provided domestic partner health benefits,” “designates LGBT people as a health disparities population,” “allows states to cover early HIV treatment under their Medicaid programs” and “prohibits consideration of personal characteristics unrelated to the provision of health care”:

– Ends the unfair taxation of employer-provided domestic partner health benefits: While federal law allows married workers who receive family health insurance benefits to deduct the value of that coverage from taxable income, workers who are unmarried and have domestic partners are required to pay taxes on the fair market value of their coverage. As a result, “employees with partner health benefits now pay on average $1,069 per year more in taxes than would a married employee with the same coverage.” As CAP’s ‘Unequal Taxes on Equal Benefits‘ concluded, “collectively, unmarried couples lose $178 million per year to additional taxes.” The bill extends the tax exclusion to domestic partnership benefits.

– Designates LGBT people as a health disparities population: This opens up health data collection and grant programs “focused on health disparities related to sexual orientation and gender identity, enabling the government to direct funding for research and public health efforts to address those disparities.” For instance, “gay men and lesbian women are at increased risk for certain cancers (lung, cervical, breast, and anal cancer), due to a higher prevalence of smoking and inadequate risk assessment and screening by providers.” Greater research into these disparities would allow the federal government to “target the health promotion campaigns” about “smoking prevention and cessation activities” to LGBT populations.

– Provides states to expand coverage for early HIV treatment under their Medicaid programs: Medicaid “covers 55 percent of all people living with AIDS and 90 percent of all children living with AIDS who are receiving medical care.” Under current law, “individuals with HIV/AIDS who qualify for Medicaid do so because they are certified as disabled,” (which means that they will not be eligible for services until their immune systems have declined to the point of an AIDS diagnosis and/or they are no longer able to work). At this stage and is often “too sick to benefit from current therapies” and is “past the recommended point to begin treatment.” This provision, based on the bipartisan The Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA), would allow more HIV positive people to receive treatment at earlier stages and would “dramatically improve the quality of life for low-income people with HIV, as well as saving taxpayers money and reducing the transmission of the virus.” The Senate bill

– Prohibits consideration of personal characteristics unrelated to the provision of health care: The bill specifies that all health care and related services (including insurance coverage and public health activities) covered by this Act shall be provided without regard to personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services. Consideration of sexual orientation and gender identity in the dispensation of medical care has long disadvantaged the LGBT community.

Josh Rosenthal has more on how health reform can address the specific needs of LGBT Americans.