Tuesday, September 11, 2012

HHS Affirms that Transgender People Protected Under the Affordable Care Act

 The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a letter clarifying that “provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibiting sex discrimination in health insurance apply to transgender people,” reports the Washington Post. This declaration means that it is discriminatory for employers and insurers to deny health insurance coverage or benefits based on “gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” The letter was issued by the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and joins recent court decisions that the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination pertains to transgender people.

While this assertion is a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done. “This is a population underserved and in need of a lot of health care,” says M. Dru Lavasseur, a transgender rights attorney at Lambda Legal. Insurers are not mandated to cover surgery related to gender transition and on the individual market insurers may deny coverage to transgender people altogether on the basis of a preexisting condition. In 2014, however, a provision of the ACA will prohibit insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocates are praising this letter and hope it will lead towards further equality in health care, which is gradually on the rise. “Although they are not required to do so, a growing number of employers provide health benefits that address the needs of transgender individuals,” states the Washington Post.

In our mission to promote the health and well-being of LGBT individuals, their families and friends, we at PFLAG are glad to see HHS stand up for quality, affordable, and equal health care for all people. However, we recognize the remaining inequalities in health care for LGBT people and aim to close the gap left by legislation.

This is why, five years ago, PFLAG National created the Straight for Equality project, starting with the Straight for Equality in Health Care initiative. We believe that by helping educate healthcare professionals about the challenges facing LGBT people and providing some basic ways to start addressing those challenges, we’ll be able to increase access to and the effectiveness of healthcare for our LGBT friends and family. Straight for Equality increases awareness of why equality should matter to all, fosters supportive environments, and allows everyone to contribute to equal, quality healthcare. As legislation increasingly mandates equal treatment of all, Straight for Equality fosters conversations that raise awareness and challenge assumptions about LGBT people. This civic engagement Straight for Equality facilitates compliments legislation and creates a society that embraces human diversity.

Take Action: HHS is now accepting and investigating complaints of sex discrimination under the health care law. If you or someone you know has been a victim of health care discrimination, it is imperative that you contact the Department of Health and Human Services by clicking here and explaining your case.
It is also important that you click here to tell your elected official why you believe in affordable and equal health care for all people.
To learn more about PFLAG’s Straight for Equality in Health Care initiative, please click here.