Our guest bloggers are Kellan Baker and Mark Hines.
In an unprecedented announcement on Tuesday, Blue Shield of California announced that it will cap profits moving forward at 2 percent of total annual revenue. To kick off this initiative, Blue Shield is giving back $180 million of its 2010 profits to the people it insures and their communities.
LGBT Californians should welcome this move by Blue Shield. Some of those who will be receiving rebates on their premiums are members of the LGBT community. But more importantly, Blue Shield is taking a step toward the kind of social responsibility that businesses everywhere should be pursuing. Corporate social responsibility is particularly important in the health insurance industry, where the initiative that insurance carriers take to help extend affordable, accessible coverage to underserved communities – such as the LGBT community – can literally mean the difference between life and death.
California is home to an estimated 1.8 million LGBT people. Discrimination in employment, relationship recognition, and insurance industry policies mean that many LGBT Californians are uninsured. Being uninsured, particularly when combined with the social exclusion that many LGBT people experience, contributes to significant health disparities for the LGBT community. These disparities include higher rates of exposure to violence, HIV/AIDS, and mental health concerns such as depression.
The health disparities and widespread unavailability of insurance that affect the LGBT community make accessible health care facilities such as community health centers especially important for LGBT people and their families. The Blue Shield of California Foundation, which will receive $3 million from the profit cap announced on Tuesday, helps fund the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center and other health centers that provide vital services to the LGBT community.
Blue Shield is also helping to fund the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California, both through the Blue Shield Foundation and through donations such as the $10 million from the profit cap that will go toward developing effective models for accountable care organizations (ACOs), a major focus of health care reform.
This support for the Affordable Care Act is of vital importance for the LGBT community. LGBT people, like members of other underserved communities, must fight constantly to try to keep themselves and their families healthy. Their experiences expose our current health system’s failure to serve the many Americans who cannot secure access to insurance coverage and affordable health care. The Affordable Care Act is a crucial step in making our nation’s health system responsive to the needs of everyone in America, including LGBT people.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many LGBT people who have never been able to afford health insurance or health care will be able to apply for Medicaid or affordable private coverage in every state. LGBT people will not be subject to denials of insurance coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions or to loss of vital coverage when they become ill. The Affordable Care Act is also key to efforts such as expanding LGBT cultural competency in the health care workforce, making preventive care available to everyone who needs it, improving data collection to better identify and address LGBT health disparities, and recognizing the increasing diversity of America’s families.
The Affordable Care Act is a crucial part of making our health system better serve LGBT Americans and their friends, families, and neighbors. But new laws can’t get us there alone. Businesses, particularly those that work for profit in the health sector, need to pitch in and help make sure that everyone can get the support and care they need to live healthy lives. Blue Shield of California has taken an important first step, and others should follow its lead.